World Bulletin / News Desk
"We condemn the Israeli seizure of the Zaytouna-Oliva, which came to show solidarity with the Palestinian people," Faisal Abu Shahla, a leading member of the Fatah movement, said at a press conference held in Gaza City by the National and Islamic Forces coalition.
Established during the second Palestinian intifada (2000-2005), the coalition includes Fatah, Hamas, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, Jihad and other Palestinian factions.
"The activists aboard the ship weren’t carrying weapons or guns -- only hope for the Palestinian people," Abu Shahla said.
He described the boat’s seizure on Wednesday evening as "blatant piracy", going on to assert that the subsequent arrest of the activists on board by the Israeli authorities constituted a "violation of their rights".
He added: "The boat’s seizure means Israel is insistent on maintaining its blockade of the Gaza Strip while the world remains silent."
Abu Shahla also called on the international community to support the "humanitarian message borne by these activists by taking immediate action to lift the siege on Gaza and end the Israeli occupation".
According to the initiative’s organizers and reports in the Israeli media, the Israeli navy seized the Zaytouna-Oliva on Wednesday evening and towed it to Israel’s port city of Ashdod.
Passengers aboard the ship, which set sail from the Spanish city of Barcelona last month, include Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, Swedish and Algerian lawmakers, a South African Olympic athlete and a Malaysian doctor.
The all-female initiative sought to break Israel’s decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip and show solidarity with the women of Gaza.
In June of last year, Israeli forces intercepted the "Marianne" -- which had been taking part in a similar initiative -- and arrested all activists on board.
A similar Gaza-bound aid flotilla ended in tragedy in 2010 when the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship, was raided by Israeli commandos who killed 10 Turkish activists.
Since 2007, the Hamas-run Gaza Strip has groaned under a crippling Israeli/Egyptian blockade that has deprived its almost two million inhabitants of most basic commodities, including food, fuel, medicine and desperately-needed building materials.
In June, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon described the blockade of Gaza as "collective punishment", which, he asserted, "suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts".