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Human rights groups condemn Israeli take-over of convoy to Gaza

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights has condemned Israel for intercepting and taking over the Zeitouna, a ship en route to the Gaza Strip with the intention of breaking the Israeli blockade.

The center released a statement on Thursday stating that Israel’s actions constitute a crime and add to a list of crimes already committed, including the occupation of the Palestinian territories and a long history of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The Arab Organization for Human Rights in Britain condemned the “crime of piracy” in a statement, stating that “this crime was not the first of its kind, there are a number of boats that have faced piracy and have been prevented from completing their journeys to Gaza to break the siege.”

Activists from several countries started an initiative in September through which they attempted to sail two ships, the Zeitouna and the Aml, to Gaza in attempt to break the blockade imposed on it since 2006.

The first ship, the Zeitouna, launched on September 27 and was carrying 13 women, including one member of the European Parliament, as well as celebrities and activists from 10  countries. The ship left from Messina in Italy and was supposed to be followed by the second ship, Aml, which was delayed due to logistical reasons, organizers told Al-Jazeera.

The convoy included women from 10 international solidarity organizations and over 30 activists from countries including Turkey, Canada, Spain, Norway, Australia, Italy and South Africa.

The boat was boarded by Israeli naval forces on Wednesday, while it was still in international waters — 40 miles away from Gaza. Israeli forces took the ship to Ashdod Port, where the activists were arrested. Some have since been deported, but others remain in detention.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights urged students and human rights activists all around the world to “continue attempts to break the siege and expose the crimes of occupation and international silence towards them.”

The center also called on the international community to put pressure on Israeli authorities to release the detained activists and lift the siege on Gaza to guarantee a decent life for its citizens.

The Arab Organization for Human Rights held Israel fully responsible for “the safety of the activists and press on board the ship.” The statement called on the foreign ministers and governments of the activists aboard the ship to secure their freedom without delay.

This convoy was part of an ongoing series of similar campaigns to break the blockade on Gaza by sending ships loaded with aid. While some ships have succeeded, Israeli forces have intercepted several others and prevented them from landing.

In May 2010, Israeli naval special forces launched an attack on a ship called Marmara, which was leading an international fleet called the Freedom Flotilla, commissioned by the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation to break the blockade. Israeli soldiers opened fire on the vessel, killing 10 activists and injuring several others.

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