HELSINKI: Israel has warned Finland that it will stop a boat with pro-Palestinian activists on board by force if it tries to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip, a foreign ministry spokesman said Saturday.
“The foreign ministry has been informed by Israel that it would intervene if the ship Estelle which is flying the Finnish flag tries to break (Israel’s) blockade against Gaza from the sea,” spokesman Risto Piipponen said on state television.
“We told Israel that the Estelle is a civilian vessel and that its crew is made up of civilians,” he said. Israel had been asked to act appropriately, he added.
The yacht, which was built in 1922, sailed from Naples, Italy on October 6 as part of the “Freedom Flotilla” movement, in the latest bid to break Israel’s blockade.
It carries 16 people, mainly from Western coutries but also one Israeli national, as well as humanitarian aid. Depending on weather conditions, it is expected to reach Gaza in around two weeks.
The voyage was organised by an international pro-Palestinian coalition.
Canada’s Gaza’s Ark group which supports the mission said on its website the Finnish ministry had informed it of the Israeli warning.
“...in case SV Estelle seeks to break the blockade at sea on Gaza (20 nautical miles), Israel will intervene in the situation by using force. Should this take place, the safety of the people on board may be jeopardized”, Gaza’s Ark quoted the Israeli message to the Finnish foreign ministry as saying.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas.
The first Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 ended in tragedy when nine Turkish nationals were killed after Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the lead ship, as it tried to break through the blockade.
A second attempt to break the blockade in mid-2011 with a coalition of ships setting sail from Athens failed after Greek authorities intercepted the boats, banning their departure and towing back into port those who tried to leave.
In November last year, the Israeli navy also intercepted two Irish and Canadian ships carrying 27 passengers and crew that were trying to breach the blockade in international waters off Gaza.
The Estelle set off originally from Sweden and arrived in the Gulf of Naples on October 4 after a tour of Europe, including Finland, France and Spain. Its exact location can be followed on the flotilla’s Ship to Gaza website.