Activists on intercepted Gaza ship say they were roughly handled

Greek activists on a ship sailing to Gaza that was intercepted by Israeli forces said on Tuesday (October 23) Israeli forces handcuffed and used a taser on them when the ship was seized.

The activists said at least two vessels and helicopters were used in the operation to seize their ship.

"The cost of this operation could have been used to build two schools in that region. To mobilize hundreds of armed, geared up, commandos, to board a ship where there are 30 activists, on such a beautiful sailing ship such as the Estelle, to board, armed, to tie them with handcuffs, to push, to throw people down, to hit them with electroshock with the familiar tasers, and then to be towed again to the port of Ashdod," said activist Vangelis Pissias.

"The blockade on Gaza must be broken. This disgrace must end. Israel must be put against the wall by the international community and be forced to change its policy, since it does not understand any other way," he added.

Five Greek activists were on the 'SV Estelle', including two members of parliament, along with 25 other international activists.

The boat was another in a series of vessels over the years carrying international activists sailing to Gaza to protest against Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave.

It was intercepted on Saturday (October 20) and escorted to the Israeli port of Ashdod by the Israeli navy, after being seized in international waters in the Mediterranean sea to prevent it breaching Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.

She said no one was hurt when the marines boarded the Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was re-routed to the Israeli port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Palestinian enclave.

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said on Saturday.

The Greek activists released a video of the moment when Israeli forces arrive to board the vessel.

Jim Manly, former Canadian MP and retired United Church Minister, continues to be detained in Israel with many of the other crew members of the Estelle.

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.

Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents, and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and detained foreign activists repatriated.

In a May 2010 interception, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their Gaza-bound ship.

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the Gaza blockade legal but faulted the Israeli navy for excessive force. (REUTERS)

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