On Wednesday afternoon, an all-female detachment of Israeli Navy sailors intercepted and detained 13 female activists who were attempting to run the Gaza naval blockade. Among those detained was Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, 72.
The Israeli Defense Force unit boarded the activists' yacht in international waters, about 40 nm offshore, then searched it and diverted it to Ashdod.
The former head of the Maritime Section of the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office, Craig Murray, told Russian state-owned media that the intercept was an "act of aggression," as the Dutch-flagged yacht was effectively an extension of Dutch territory when in international waters.
Israel's declared "military exclusion zone" off Gaza extends beyond the 12 nm line for territorial seas.
"In accordance with government directives and after exhausting all diplomatic channels, the Israeli Navy redirected the vessel in order to prevent breach of the lawful maritime blockade,” the Israeli Defense Forces said in a statement. “In accordance with international law, the Israeli Navy advised the vessel numerous times to change course prior to the action. Following their refusal the Navy visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent their intended breach of the lawful maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.”
The IDF added that the activists were "transferred to the appropriate authorities for further processing."
Israel has blockaded all shipping to and from Gaza since 2007. UN officials have described the blockade as "illegal” due to its effect on the civilian population, a characterization which Israel strongly contests.
As of Thursday evening, all of the activists from the yacht had been deported back to their home countries, according to the organization Women’s Boat to Gaza.