Israel Forces Malaysian Aid Ship to Withdraw, Fires Warning Shots

Israeli naval forces fired warning shots Monday at a ship carrying aid to Gaza as it approached the shore, forcing it to withdraw to Egyptian waters, the vessel's Malaysian organizer told Agence France Presse.

"The MV Finch, carrying sewage pipes to Gaza, had warning shots fired at it by Israeli forces in the Palestinian security zone this morning at 0654 Jordan time (0354 GMT)," said Shamsul Azhar from the Perdana Global Peace Foundation.

"The vessel was in the Palestinian security zone, about 400 meters from the Gaza shoreline, when they were intercepted by Israeli naval forces," he told AFP, adding it was now anchored 30 nautical miles away in Egyptian territory.

The Perdana Foundation is helmed by former Malaysian premier Mahathir Mohamad, an 85-year-old firebrand who was a strident critic of the West and Israel over the Palestinian issue during his two decades in power.

The organization was also involved in the first "Freedom Flotilla", a 2010 attempt to break the Israeli embargo on Gaza which ended in disaster when naval commandos raided the aid ships, killing nine Turks on board one of them.

Perdana Foundation officials said the MV Finch left the Port of Piraeus in Greece on May 11 for Gaza, carrying plastic pipes to help restore the "devastated" sewage system in Gaza.

Alang Bendahara, a Malaysian journalist on board, told AFP that in a dramatic encounter, Israeli naval ships stopped the vessel with a volley of gunfire as it approached the shore.

"The Israeli naval vessel fired a warning shot at us upon approaching and asked us to leave the waters but the ship's captain refused and the Israelis fired again, circling the MV Finch before firing twice more," he said.

"At that point they threatened the ship's captain that they would board the vessel and we were forced to turn back, it was lucky that no one was injured," he added.

Alang said the ship's propellers then got stuck in fishing nets but that it managed to move away shortly after.

"Two Egyptian naval vessels were monitoring us and they escorted us once we were in Egyptian waters," he said.

"They have now boarded our vessel and are inspecting our cargo to make sure there is nothing illegal onboard. They will be escorting us to the port of al-Arish because they say they will detain the ship."

The journalist said there were 12 people on board the vessel -- seven Malaysians, two Irish, two Indians and a Canadian -- including anti-war activists and journalists.

Foundation officials said the MV Finch is not part of an international aid flotilla which plans to set sail for the Gaza Strip in June.

Last month, Israeli Foreign Minister Avidgor Lieberman condemned the new convoy, dubbed "Freedom Flotilla II," as aimed solely at harming his country.

Since the 2010 flotilla incident, Israel has loosened some of the restrictions on imports into Gaza and exports from the coastal enclave, but aid vessels are routinely diverted to Ashdod in Israel or Egyptian ports.

The Perdana Foundation sent volunteers on the first aid flotilla operation, and also sponsored part of the cost of the mission.

Source: Agence France Presse

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