A Nobel peace laureate has described her detention by the Israeli navy as she tried to reach Gaza by sea as a case of “kidnap”.
Mairead Maguire, 72, from Belfast, was with 13 activists on a boat about 40 miles from shore when it was intercepted on Wednesday as they attempted to breach the maritime blockade imposed in 2007.
The yacht, Zaytouna-Olivia, was not carrying aid.
It travelled from Barcelona to Sicily and onwards to Gaza in a symbolic attempt to challenge Israel’s refusal to let Palestinians freely use the port.
Ms Maguire, who was awarded the 1976 Nobel peace prize for her work to unite communities in Northern Ireland via a group called Peace People.
It was founded after an IRA driver fatally ran over her sister’s three children whilst he was trying to escape the Army.
In a pre-recorded a video message she said: “We were arrested, kidnapped, illegally, in international waters and taken against our wish into Israel.
“This has happened to me before. We will be deported and tragically not allowed back to see our friends in Palestine and Israel...
“As women from many countries we uphold our freedom of movement in any part of our world.
“So, for those who can help to call for the release of all those on the women’s boat to Gaza, please do so.
“But even more importantly, because it’s not about us, work for the freedom and human rights, the lifting of the blockade against the people of Gaza and for the freedom for the Palestinian people and peace in the Middle East.
“We can all do this together. It is not a dream.
“We are here in prison because we care for human rights, for human dignity, for the Palestinian people.”
The Israeli Defence Forces said the boat was intercepted in international waters after “exhausting all diplomatic channels” and that the operation was “uneventful”.
It described the Gaza maritime blockade as lawful and said the women refused to change course when asked.
Others on the voyage, organised by the Women’s Boat to Gaza, were Ann Wright, a retired US colonel, former South African Olympic volleyball player Leigh-Ann Naidoo, Algerian MP Samira Douaifia, Marama Davidson Green Party MP in New Zealand and Jeannette Escanilla first substitute MP in the Swedish parliament.
Three of the 13 women have been released.
In 2010 an unsuccessful attempt by the Gaza Freedom Flotilla to breach the blockade ended when Israeli military intercepted the MV Mavi Marmara and killed 10 Turkish people after boarding.
At that time Ms Maguire was on a separate boat in the flotilla, the MV Rachel Corrie and she was subsequently detained and deported.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Hamas militant group took power almost 10 years ago.
The blockade has stifled the tiny state’s weak economy but Israel insists it is necessary to prevent Hamas importing weapons.
The women were detained hours after a rocket strike on Sderot, a southern Israeli town on the Gaza border. Israel targeted a series of Hamas posts in Gaza in response.