A small group of Jewish activists who vowed to defy Israel's blockade of Gaza were forced to land their boat in the Israeli port of Ashdod on Tuesday, after Israeli warships intercepted their boat. Activists said the vessel was not raided.
AFP - Israeli warships on Tuesday intercepted a Jewish activist boat trying to run the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip after it refused to heed calls to change course, organisers told AFP.
"Ten Israeli warships forced the boat to head for (the Israeli port) of Ashdod by force, but without raiding the ship," said Amjad al-Shawa, a Gaza-based organiser.
"They surrendered because they were surrounded. They had no choice," he added.
Shawa said the warships had surrounded the tiny British-flagged vessel and warned they would stop it by force if it stayed on course for the Hamas-run enclave.
Earlier, Yonatan Shapira, one of the Israeli activists on board, said the navy had made contact and ordered the "Irene" to change course.
"They said we were approaching an area under naval blockade and told us to change course," Shapira told AFP by satellite telephone, saying the boat was about 20 miles from the Gaza coast.
The navy also warned that the passengers and crew would be held legally liable if they insisted on heading to Gaza, especially those with Israeli nationality. Five of those on board are Israelis.
The sound of a voice over a megaphone urging the vessel, "Irene", to "change course" could be heard in the background.
The military had no immediate comment on the situation and refused to confirm that contact had been made with the boat, which is carrying seven Jewish activists from Israel, Britain, Germany and the United States, and two journalists, one of whom is an Israeli.
Israel had warned it would halt the vessel and divert it to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod if it entered Gaza waters.
Shapira had earlier said the boat hoped to reach Gaza during the morning. The activists have insisted they are not looking for a confrontation with Israeli forces.
"We have a policy of non-violence and non-confrontation," Shapira, a former Israeli pilot, told AFP on Sunday. "But if the Israeli army stops the boat, we will not help them to take it to Ashdod."
In the past, Israel has said it would deliver any humanitarian cargo to Gaza overland after towing such boats to Ashdod.
In May, Israeli forces intercepted a six-ship flotilla heading for Gaza but the raid went badly wrong and nine Turkish activists -- including one with US citizenship -- were killed, prompting a wave of international condemnation.
Israel said its troops resorted to force only after they were attacked while rappelling onto the deck of the lead ship. Pro-Palestinian activists on board say the soldiers opened fire as soon as they landed.
The voyage of the Irene is organised by the London-based Jews for Justice for Palestinians.
Prominent British supporters listed on its website include humourist and actor Stephen Fry and Marion Kozak, the mother of newly-elected Labour Party leader Ed Miliband and of former foreign minister David Miliband.
On board the Irene are 82-year-old Holocaust survivor Reuven Moskovitz and Rami Elhanan, an Israeli whose daughter Smadar was killed in a 1997 Palestinian suicide bombing in Jerusalem.
With them are a German nurse, British and US peace activists, Shapira's brother and a reporter for Israel's Channel 10 television.
Israel and Egypt sealed Gaza's borders after Palestinian militants captured an Israeli soldier in June 2006 and tightened the blockade a year later when the Islamist Hamas movement seized power, allowing in only humanitarian aid.
Israel eased the closures to allow in all purely civilian goods in the aftermath of the deadly flotilla raid, but still restricts dual-use items such as construction materials that could be used to build militant fortifications.
Date created : 2010-09-28