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Israeli Defence Forces assault flotilla of activists and journalists, impose media blackout

Israeli forces raided a flotilla of activists on its way to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip; 60 journalists were on board.
Israeli forces raided a flotilla of activists on its way to deliver aid to the Gaza Strip; 60 journalists were on board.

via EPA

At least nine people were killed and dozens wounded when an Israeli warship intercepted and raided a flotilla of activists attempting to deliver 10,000 tons of aid to Gaza on 31 May. Around 60 journalists were reportedly on board. More than 600 people from 42 countries, including journalists, activists and artists, have been arrested since the raid unfolded in international waters. Shortly after the assault, Israeli authorities launched an information blackout, blocking cellphones and barring journalists from covering the attack, report the Palestinian Center for Development and Media Freedoms (MADA), ARTICLE 19, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and other IFEX members.

The convoy of boats in the Freedom Flotilla, led by the Free Gaza Movement and Turkish organisation Insani Yardim Vakfi, set out from Turkey on Sunday afternoon reported "The New York Times". Israel ordered the convoy to abort its mission; the vessel refused to dock at an Israeli port. Then, naval commandos were dropped aboard the Turkish ship, intending to commandeer the vessel. Now the raid's brutal consequences have thrown a spotlight on Israel's policy of blockading Gaza, say news reports.

ARTICLE 19 is calling for an independent investigation into the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) use of lethal force: "It should focus on the legality of the Israeli assault in international waters and thus the legality of the blockade, and the proportionality of the use of force." In a submission to the United Nations 14th Human Rights Council, the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) called upon the United Nations today to conduct an immediate investigation into the attack.

The same day, an Al Jazeera TV crew was attacked by Israeli citizens in the port of Ashdod after the defence minister gave a news conference about the attack, reports RSF. Many of the journalists on the flotilla have been out of contact since the raid. According to the International Press Institute (IPI), journalists on board reported the jamming of electronic devices as the raid occurred. Israeli forces arrested at least 20 journalists aboard the flotilla; three have since been released, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). RSF says 16 journalists are still being held at Be'er Scheva detention centre, and that journalists are among the 300 people being deported through the airport today.

Israeli forces have also attempted to curb criticism by targeting journalists in other recent incidents. According to RSF, at least three Palestinian journalists were assaulted by Israeli soldiers in the West Bank last month, and more than 30 journalists have been attacked by the IDF this year. Soldiers fired tear gas at a cameraman covering protests against the Israeli separation wall in Beit Jala on 23 May, while another correspondent was targeted with tear gas for covering wall protests on 14 May. MADA reports that a Palestinian cameraman covering clashes between settlers and Palestinian youth on 29 May was beaten by security forces after stones were thrown at him by settlers.

Israeli authorities routinely target prominent rights defenders. A joint action spearheaded by CIHRS, with 23 other organisations, has condemned the arrest of rights defender Ameer Makhoul on 6 May. Makhoul has been active in exposing racist practices and abuses against Arab Israelis. A gag order was placed on his arrest until 27 May, reports I'lam: Media Center for Arab Palestinians in Israel, which was concerned about the "conditions of his detention, including allegations of torture."

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