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Flotilla activists accuse Israel of using stun gun

  • The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged vessel Estelle is escorted by Israeli naval police as it sails to the port of Ashdod, Israel, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Israeli troops on Saturday commandeered a Gaza-bound ship that tried to break through Israel's blockade of the Hamas-ruled seaside strip, the military said. European lawmakers and other pro-Palestinian activists aboard did not resist, and the Finnish-flagged vessel was diverted to an Israeli port. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: Pro-Palestinian activists from a Gaza-bound boat intercepted by the Israeli navy have accused troops of using a stun gun when they took over the vessel, their lawyer told AFP Sunday. The Israeli army immediately denied the claim.

“They used electric shocker devices to the extent of what we call ‘electro torture’ on some of the activists,” lawyer Gaby Lasky told AFP, adding that at least one of them is an MP.

It was not immediately clear how many of the 30 activists and crew on board the Estelle were shot with the stun guns, which use an electrical charge to incapacitate a person.

But Israeli army spokeswoman Avital Leibovich denied that the soldiers had used “violence.”

“No force was used when taking over the ship,” she told AFP.

There were five parliamentarians from Europe on board: Ricardo Sixto Iglesias from Spain, Sven Britton from Sweden, Aksel Hagen of Norway, and Vangelis Diamandopoulos and Dimitris Kodelas, both from Greece.

Former Canadian lawmaker Jim Manly, who is in his late 70s, was also on board.

The ship docked at Ashdod harbor in southern Israel late Saturday, more than 10 hours after Israeli naval commandos took control of it in international waters . It was escorted there by two Israeli naval vessels, an AFP correspondent said.

The military said the boarding was carried out after “numerous calls to the passengers onboard” went unanswered.

“As a result of their unwillingness to cooperate and after ignoring calls to change course, the decision was made to board the vessel and lead it to the port of Ashdod,” the military said. The troops “did not need to use force,” the statement added.

Saturday’s takeover ended the latest attempt by pro-Palestinian activists to breach Israel’s tight maritime embargo on Gaza which prohibits all naval traffic in and out of the coastal territory.

In May 2010, activists tried to reach the Gaza Strip in a six-ship flotilla which was stormed by Israeli troops in a botched operation which left nine Turkish nationals dead, sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara.

Since then, there have been several other attempts to reach Gaza by boat, all of which have been stopped by Israel, although there has been no repeat of the bloodshed.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on October 22, 2012, on page 9.
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