Conflict & Justice

Israeli navy takes over Gaza-bound ship


Israeli navy vessel leaves the port of Ashdod in southern Israel on July 19, 2011. Israeli naval commandos have taken over a French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists heading towards Gaza in a failed attempt to break the blockade of the strip.


Jack Guez

Israeli naval commandos have taken over a French yacht heading towards Gaza in a failed attempt to break the blockade of the strip.

They took over the ship carrying 16 pro-Palestinian activists after they ignored calls to change course and head towards another port, Associated Press reports.

There was no resistance when the Navy boarded the vessel, Dignite al-Karama, in international waters about 40 miles off Gaza, AP says.

"The Israeli navy has boarded the ship," a military spokeswoman told AFP saying the operation to board the MV Dignite/Al Karama had been conducted peacefully and that the ship was being towed towards the Israeli port of Ashdod.

"After all diplomatic channels had been exhausted and continuous calls to the vessel had been ignored, IDF Navy soldiers boarded the Al Karama in an effort to stop it from breaking the maritime security blockade on the Gaza Strip," an army statement said.

The navy first approached the boat about five hours earlier and began communicating with crew who insisted they would continue to Gaza.

"Upon expressing their unwillingness to arrive at the Ashdod port, it was unequivocally necessary to board the vessel and lead it there," the military statement said.

The military has vowed to stop any attempt to break the sea blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed four years ago in what it says is a measure to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group.

The lone French yacht had set sail from a Greek island this past weekend after Athens tried to ban the departure of any ships planning to join the aid flotilla heading for Gaza.

The boat had at least 16 people on board, including three crew members, seven French nationals and journalists from Al Jazeera and Haaretz, Al Jazeera reported.

The France-based Platform Palestine group, one of the organizers of the protest boat, said the Israeli military takeover "clearly shows the military logic of Israeli politics, which only speaks the language of force", AP reports.

It said it had no contact with anyone on the boat, the report says.

In a text message sent to reporters, the Hamas government in Gaza condemned the seizing of the boat.

The protestors had hoped to join a flotilla which was blocked from leaving Greece because officials were concerned for the "safety" of the activists on board, considering last year's incident when Israeli commandos raided a flotilla in a botched confrontation that left nine Turkish citizens dead.

Both sides have said they acted in self defense.

Flotilla organizers said the Dignite Al Karama was allowed to sail from the Greek isle of Kastellorizo because the island is sympathetic with Gaza, the AFP reported. The rest of the ships in the planned flotilla, dubbed Freedom Flotilla II, remain detained in Greek ports.

The region has been under a blockade since 2006 after militants from Gaza seized an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, who is still being held at a secret location.