The damaged vessel SS Dignity from the group Free Gaza, arrives in the southern port city of Tyre, Lebanon, Tuesday, Dec. 30, 2008. (AP)
(11Alive.com) -- A boat carrying aid to pro-Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip was surrounded and boarded by Israeli forces off the coast of the Gaza Strip Tuesday. Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney was one of the 21 people on board who were taken into Israeli custody and held at the port of Ashrod in Israel.
McKinney is quoted as saying that the confrontation was "an outrageous violation of international law," and she claimed the boat was on a humanitarian mission and was not in Israeli waters.
The Israeli military said the boat tried to violate Israel's security blockade and enter Gaza illegally.
The 21 passengers and crew on the Greek-registered ship "Arion" were working with the U.S.-based "Free Gaza Movement." Among them, besides McKinney, was 1977 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Maguire.
Israeli forces have maintained a blockade on the Palestinian territory since 2007, partly to prevent smugglers from delivering weapons and munitions to Gaza.
McKinney was involved in a similar incident exactly six months earlier, on December 30, 2008. She was on the S.S. Dignity, and it collided with an Israeli navy craft that was part of the same blockade as she and her group claimed they were attempting to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Said McKinney then, "Our mission was a peaceful mission, to deliver medical supplies. And our mission was thwarted by the Israelis, the aggressiveness of the Israeli military."
Now, as then, the Israeli government is accusing McKinney and her group of knowingly entering waters internationally recognized as under Israeli security and control.
The Israeli Consulate General of Israel in Atlanta e-mailed a statement to 11Alive News pointing out that humanitarian aid organizations are delivering supplies into Gaza every day -- by land.
The statement said, "Once again, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and her fellow travelers have taken it upon themselves to disregard their own safety... by leading a boat into restricted waters. Ms. McKinney ignored the available and legal means for the delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip and instead chose to make a reckless political stunt."
The "Free Gaza" website, freegaza.org, quotes McKinney as saying that she and her group are in the right.
"This is an outrageous violation of international law against us," she was quoted as saying. "Our boat was not in Israeli waters, and we were on a human rights mission to the Gaza Strip. President Obama just told Israel to let in humanitarian and reconstruction supplies, and that's exactly what we tried to do. We're asking the international community to demand our release so we can resume our journey."
Israel is expected to deport McKinney and her group shortly, and promised to deliver, to Gaza, all of the humanitarian aid that was on their boat -- by land.
McKinney has accused Israel of confiscating much of the aid that Israel lets into Gaza by land, while Israel has accused Hamas of confiscating much of that aid once it arrives.
This is the full statement, released Tuesday, from the Consulate General of Israel to the Southeast, based in Atlanta:
Earlier today an Israeli Navy team boarded and took control of the cargo boat 'Arion' as the vessel illegally attempted to enter the Gaza Strip. In accordance with internationally recognized agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the waters along the Gaza Strip are under Israeli security control and foreign vessels are not permitted to sail into the territory. The Israeli Navy attempted to make contact with the 'Arion,' but its repeated warnings were ignored. No shots were fired during the boarding of the boat and the vessel was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod. Humanitarian goods found aboard to boat will be transferred to the Gaza Strip, subject to authorization. We expect the vessel's passengers to be flown home shortly.
Israel continues to make the humanitarian relief efforts in Gaza one of its top priorities. Humanitarian aid is shipped into Gaza regularly through multiple ground crossings and those who wish to transfer humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip can do so through these existing channels. In 2009 alone, the Gaza Strip has received over 300,000 tons of humanitarian supplies. Hundreds of aid trucks enter Gaza daily. In some cases, this has led to a surplus of humanitarian aid, with reports of Gaza civilians selling extra aid they possess.
Once again former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and her fellow travelers have taken it upon themselves to disregard their own safety, as well as the safety of the vessel's crew, by leading a boat into restricted waters. Ms. McKinney ignored the available and legal means for the delivery of aid to the Gaza Strip and instead chose to make a reckless political stunt.