Israel frees Gaza boat passengers protesting blockade

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Israeli naval forces have freed most of the passengers of a boat they intercepted after it set out from the Port of Gaza Tuesday aiming to break Israel’s decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In a statement, Adham Abu Silmiyya, a spokesman for Gaza’s National Committee for Breaking the Siege, confirmed that all passengers on the boat except the captain were freed.

The passengers returned to Gaza through Israel’s Erez border crossing between the blockaded Gaza Strip — which has been governed by Hamas since 2007 — and Israel.

Abu Silmiyya told Anadolu Agency earlier that four Israeli naval vessels had surrounded the boat roughly eight nautical miles off Gaza’s coast.

He held Israel “fully responsible” for the safety of everyone aboard the boat, going on to urge the international community to extend protection to the beleaguered Palestinian people.

The Israeli military has since confirmed that it intercepted the vessel, which is now reportedly being towed to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

No injuries were reported during the boat’s interception, the army said in a statement.

The boat set out from Gaza on Tuesday carrying 20 Palestinian passengers including university graduates, medical patients seeking treatment abroad and Palestinians injured by recent Israeli violence near the Gaza-Israel security fence.

The main boat was accompanied by dozens of smaller vessels in a show of defiance against Israel’s crippling blockade, which has remained in effect since 2007 and which has brought Gaza to the verge of a humanitarian catastrophe.

According to organizers, Tuesday's bid to break the blockade roughly coincides with the eighth anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident on May 31, 2010 in which nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli forces in international waters, with a tenth activist later succumbing to injuries.

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