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Activists vow to try again after Gaza boat blocked

A boat trying to deliver food and medical supplies to Gaza returned to Cyprus Thursday after Israeli naval vessels forced it to turn back midway through the voyage.
Organizers vowed to try the journey again at a later date.
Free Gaza organizer Huwaida Arraf said Israeli naval vessels surrounded the 66-foot (20-meter) Greek-flagged boat about 115 nautical miles from Gaza and threatened to open fire if it did not turn back.
"They were cutting in front of us, almost colliding with us," Arraf said.
The Israeli military said navy ships warned the boat to turn back because it was entering a war zone subject to a naval blockade. The ship turned back without incident, the military said.
The boat was carrying 5 tons of supplies and 21 passengers and crew, including three surgeons.
It was the second failed effort by the U.S.-based group to reach Gaza since Israel launched its assault on the Palestinian territory late last month in response to rocket fire on Israel.
One of the trip's organizers, Vangelis Pisias, said group members told the Israeli navy it was a humanitarian mission.
"They told us that it was forbidden to go to our destination. We replied that we were carrying humanitarian supplies and continued on our course," Pisias told Greece's private Antenna television.
"About half an hour later, they returned with a threat, telling us they were obliged to stop the boat with all means possible ... They said if we did not stop they would shoot."
Pisias said organizers are considering sending a speedier boat to Gaza.
"We want to establish a link between Cyprus and Gaza that would act as Gaza's window to the world," said Pisias. "Israel didn't wage war only on Hamas, but also on the Palestinian people."
In a statement, Free Gaza said the incident occurred in international waters at around 1:00 a.m GMT and described it as "shocking."
British reconstructive surgeon Sonia Robbins said she would now try to enter Gaza through an overland route.
In Athens, the Greek Foreign Ministry said it had sent a strong protest to the Israeli Foreign Ministry that "emphasized and asked for the Israeli authorities to pay particular attention to the protection of the lives and security of those on board the boat."
It said protests had also been sent the previous day to the Israeli foreign and defense ministries.

Updated : 2021-05-17 13:04 GMT+08:00