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Israel Navy intercepts Gaza-bound aid vessels

Saturday November 05, 2011 10:16:33 AM, IANS

Jersusalem: The Israeli Navy Friday afternoon intercepted two aid boats that were approaching the coast of Gaza Strip, leading them to southern Israel's Ashdod port, the Israeli military said in a statement.

After the boats failed to heed calls to turn around or dock in Egypt or Israel, Israel Defence Forces (IDF) Chief of Staff Benny Gantz ordered naval forces to board the ships, reported Xinhua. According to the IDF, nobody was injured during the boarding of the ships.

The boats were carrying supplies and 27 international pro-Palestinian activists.

The IDF said that the navy had contacted the Gaza-bound Canadian Tahrir and Irish Saoirse ships and informed them that Gaza is under a maritime security blockade. The IDF told the ships they could turn around or dock in an Egyptian or at the Ashdod port, where the goods they were carrying would be transferred to Gaza after being inspected.

The ships did not heed that call and continued to sail toward Gaza.

The activists will be turned over to police and immigration authorities upon their arrival at Ashdod.

The activists set sail from Turkey on Wednesday aboard the Tahrir and Saoirse yachts carrying medical supplies. The Israeli military had said it would not permit them to breach its blockade.

Israel's navy has intercepted similar protest ships in the past, towing them to Ashdod and detaining participants. Israel says its naval blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching militant groups like Hamas. Critics call the blockade collective punishment of Gaza's residents.

Israel's government has said the activists can send supplies into Gaza overland.

In May 2010, nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli soldiers tried to halt a similar flotilla. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

The incident sparked an international outcry and forced Israel to ease its land blockade on Gaza, which was imposed in 2006 and tightened, with Egyptian cooperation, after Hamas seized control of the territory the following year.

Militants in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past decade, and now have much of southern Israel in range.

On Thursday, the Obama administration warned US citizens on the boats that they may face legal action for violating Israeli and American law. The activists include Americans and citizens of eight other countries.



 



 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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