Thirteen female activists are heading home after being deported by Israel following their attempt to break the Gaza blockade, organizers said Friday.
Those aboard the Zaytouna-Oliva, which set out for Gaza from Barcelona, Spain, in mid-September, included South African Olympian Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire and lawmakers from Algeria, Sweden and New Zealand.
The ship was intercepted by the Israeli navy on Wednesday and the women held until late Thursday and early Friday.
“In the course of their capture, the women insisted that Israel’s attack was illegal and that they were being taken against their will to Israel,” the organizers said in a statement. “While the captivity of the women on board Zaytouna-Oliva may soon be over, the captivity of 1.9 million Palestinian people in Gaza remains.”
The statement added that the mission had successfully raised awareness about the conditions in Gaza.
The women’s legal team said the deportations were happening “much quicker” than usual with two having reached their home countries by late Thursday.
“We suspect that the reason for the quick release was because of all the negative media attention Israel has been receiving for its illegal interception,” legal adviser Wendy Goldsmith said.
Organizers added that Spain’s Foreign Ministry had contacted the Israeli embassy urging the government to “defend the principles of international law surrounding free navigation.”
There have been several attempts by foreign activists to breach Israel’s nine-year blockade since the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish aid ship, was attacked by Israeli commandos in 2010, resulting in the deaths of 10 Turkish activists.
Gaza has faced a crippling Israeli and Egyptian blockade since 2007 that has deprived its almost 2 million inhabitants of most basic commodities including food, fuel, medicines and building materials.
In June, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the blockade as “collective punishment” that “suffocates its people, stifles its economy and impedes reconstruction efforts”.
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