June 30, 2009 / 2:21 PM / 10 years ago

Israeli navy takes control of activist ship to Gaza

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - The Israeli navy intercepted and boarded a ship carrying pro-Palestinian activists and humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip on Tuesday in defiance of an Israeli blockade.

“No shots were fired during the boarding of the boat,” the Israeli military said in a statement, adding the vessel was being taken to the Israeli Mediterranean port of Ashdod. “The boat crew will be handed over to the appropriate authorities.”

The small ferry had set off from Cyprus with activists from the U.S.-based Free Gaza movement and humanitarian aid for Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, territory ruled by Hamas Islamists.

“Yesterday evening the Israeli navy contacted the boat while at sea clarifying that it would not be permitted to enter Gaza coastal waters because of security risks in the area, and the existing naval blockade,” the military said.

“Disregarding all warnings given, the cargo boat entered Gazan coastal waters,” the statement said, promising that humanitarian goods found on board would be transferred to the Gaza Strip “subject to authorisation”.

On its web site, the Free Gaza movement said among the activists on the vessel, which it dubbed the Spirit of Humanity, were Irish Nobel peace prize laureate Mairead Maguire and former U.S. congresswoman Cynthia McKinney.

“We are outraged, they just stole our boat and kidnapped our people,” said Greta Berlin, a representative of the movement in Cyprus.

“The last we heard from them was ‘they are surrounding us, they are surrounding us’, and then the phone line went dead.”

Israel tightened its Gaza blockade in 2007 after Hamas took control of the enclave, home to some 1.5 million people.

International calls for an end to the blockade mounted after a 22-day Israeli offensive last December and January deepened hardship in the territory. Israel launched the operation with the declared aim of ending cross-border rocket attacks.

The Israeli navy has intercepted Free Gaza activists sailing into Gaza on two previous occasions.

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