KUALA LUMPUR (AFP) – 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 organiser told AFP.Bernama.com adds some reporting from a dubiously objective reporter who was on the ship:
"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 metres 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 organisation 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.
All 12 passengers and crew onboard are now safe after Egyptian naval vessels came to their rescue and escorted the "MV Finch" to Al-Arish Port in Egypt, according to Bernama journalist, Mohd Faizal Hassan, who is also on board the ship.
Of the 12 people onboard the ship, seven were Malaysians, while the other five comprised two crewmen from India, humanitarian activists Derek and Jenny Graham from Ireland and Julie Levesque from Canada.
Faizal said the Israelis violated international law by blocking their ship and firing the shots.
"They were using anti-aircraft .50mm shells," he said.
Faizal also said New Straits Times (NST) journalist Alang Bendahara managed to capture a video recording of Israel's cruel action towards them.
According to Faizal, after the Israeli navy fired the first shot, the ship's Captain Jalil Mansor was heard telling the Israelis through radio: "This is a violation of law against unarmed civilians".
The following exchange then took place.
Israeli army: "This is a warning shot. Turn around."
Captain Jalil Mansor: "We are unarmed civilians on a humanitarian mission to Gaza".
Israeli army: "This is a closed military zone. It's a violation. Turn around."
Captain Jalil Mansor: "We will continue (the mission)".
The Israelis then headed to the back of the aid vessel and released a second warning shot into the air.
Derek Graham: "This is a violation (of international law). We are on a peaceful mission and unarmed."
Israeli army: "Turn around. We will fire again".
Derek Graham: "You are firing towards unarmed civilians".
Israeli army: "We didn't fire towards unarmed civilians".
Derek Graham: "Looks like firing towards us".
Israeli army: "We didn't fire towards you. That is only a warning shot".
Following that conversation, the Israeli army fired two more shots and threatened: "Next time, we will land on your ship".
Then the Egyptian navy was heard telling the Israelis on the radio: "Stop firing. They are in the Egyptian waters".
Upon realising the presence of Egyptian naval forces, the Israelis departed.
This ship really slipped under the radar! The activists on board either did a very bad job publicizing it or they were hoping for a bloodbath.