Captured Gaza Flotilla Ships Arrive in Israel

May 31, 2010 Updated: October 1, 2015

Israeli military vessel 'CORVETTE' model 'SAAR 5' enters the southern navy port of Ashdod on May 31, after several people were killed when Israeli forces stormed a boat carrying pro-Palestinian activists bound for Gaza. (Jack Guez/Getty Images)
Israeli military vessel 'CORVETTE' model 'SAAR 5' enters the southern navy port of Ashdod on May 31, after several people were killed when Israeli forces stormed a boat carrying pro-Palestinian activists bound for Gaza. (Jack Guez/Getty Images)
PORT OF ASHDOD, Israel—The mood was tense at the Port of Ashdod as the first of the captured Gaza flotilla of ships were escorted ashore by the Israel Defense Force (IDF).

A total of six ships formed a flotilla that claimed to be a humanitarian mission delivering supplies to residents in the Gaza Strip. Originally there had been nine ships in the flotilla but three did not complete the journey because of technical complications.

According to a spokesperson for IDF, by 4:00 p.m. local time (9:00 a.m. EDT) three of the six captured ships had already arrived in the Port of Ashdod. Two of the vessels are yachts and did not present any security issues.

A serious security incident occurred as IDF soldiers attempted to capture one of the larger ships in the flotilla, the Marvi Marmara. The IDF says passengers aboard the ship attacked soldiers with hatchets and knives.

“You wont find in any dictionary that someone who attacks you with a knife is a peace activists,” said IDF spokesperson Maj. Avihai Ader’i.

Both the pro-Palestinian activists in the Gaza flotilla and the IDF said that the other side attacked first.

Ader’i said that more than 10 people were killed but the exact number of dead is not known. The IDF has also confirmed that live ammunition was used by passengers on the Marmara, but the IDF has not confirmed if it was the passengers’ own weapons or weapons taken from Israeli soldiers.

According to a Twitter update from the flotilla at about 4:00 p.m. local time, “Marvi Marmara still at sea with 100s on board. Injured have been evacuated. Other boats dragged into port.”

The Arab community in Israel plans to hold a general strike on Tuesday throughout Israel and the occupied territories to protest the tragedy and loss of life.

According to Jamal Zakhalka, chairman of the Arab Balad party in the Israel Parliament, the strike will involve closing Arab schools and businesses. No central demonstration will be held, but a protest rally will be held in Ramallah in the West Bank on Monday night, local time.

Zakhalka says that because the Marmara was a Turkish vessel, and many of those killed are believed to be Turks, the situation is a “crisis.”

As for Monday afternoon, local time, no specific information about the identity of the dead had been released by the Israeli government. Zakhalka thinks that information about the victims is being withheld in an effort to cool down the tense situation.

“I think they [the Israelis] don’t want to hurt relations with Turkey,” said Zakhalka by telephone late Monday afternoon.

According to Alvital Leibovich, a foreign press liaison for the IDF, the takeover of the ships took place in international waters, not Israel territory. Leibovich added that Israel acted according to the dictates of international law and responded to a perceived threat to its national security.

Leibovich said that aboard the Marmara dozens of activist tried to attack Israeli solders.

Prior to the deadly clash that has left between 10-16 people dead, the Israeli government repeatedly warned the ships to stop. The Free Gaza Movement, one of the main organizers of the flotilla, has been maintaining detailed information on their website about the incident and tracked each point where ships were warned by the IDF as they approached Gaza early Monday morning, local time.

In a Twitter message just before 4:00 pm local time from the flotilla, organizers vowed to continue their fight. “We will not stop. We will go again. Please, donate for the next trip. … We WILL go until Gaza is free.”