Israeli forces board Jewish Gaza-bound aid ship


Tel Aviv: Israel Tuesday prevented an aid ship carrying Jewish anti-blockade activists bound for the Gaza Strip from reaching its destination.

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Instead the vessel was diverted to the Israeli port of Ashdod, 38 km north of Gaza City.

There was no violence or incidents as naval forces boarded the ship, the Irene, as it approached the Gaza coast.

A military statement said the Irene was boarded after its captain ignored two warnings that it was breaking Israeli and international law.

Rami Elhanan, an Israeli on board the vessel, told Israel Radio that the Israel Navy made contact with the Irene when it was approximately 20 miles off the Gaza coast and told the captain he was forbidden to proceed with his current course, and ordered him to change direction.

Naval boats then surrounded the Irene, and troops boarded it to take control.

The Irene, sailing under a British flag, left Cyprus Sunday and was en route to the Gaza Strip, which has been subject to an Israeli blockade since 2007.

On board are 10 Jewish activists, including a Holocaust survivor and an Israeli whose daughter was killed in a Hamas suicide bombing in 1997. Their nationalities are British, US, Germany and Israel.

Organisers say they are bringing “symbolic aid” to Palestinians in Gaza – textbooks, prosthetic limbs, toys, musical instruments and fishing nets.

Richard Kuper, spokesman for Jews for Justice for Palestinians in London, condemned the Israeli interception.

Israel placed the Gaza Strip under blockade in 2007, following the seizure of power by Hamas over the territory.

The blockade was eased in June this year, after the Israeli navy boarded an international aid flotilla sailing for the Strip.

Nine activists were shot dead by Israeli forces. Israel said their navy commandos came under attack from activists wielding knives and bars. A UN panel report last week called the Israeli interception “disproportionate” and “betrayed an unacceptable level of brutality”.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called that report “biased and distorted”.

Further attempts by pro-Palestinian activists to breech the naval blockade were countered without resistance or violence.