Gaza City: Israeli warships on Tuesday
intercepted a Jewish activist boat trying to run the naval
blockade on Gaza and forced it to change course for a port in
southern Israel, organisers said.
"Ten Israeli warships forced the boat to head for
Ashdod by force," said Amjad al-Shawa, a Gaza-based organiser.
"They surrendered because they were surrounded. They had no
choice," he added.
Shortly before the takeover, the warships had
surrounded the vessel, the Irene, and warned they would stop
it by force if it stayed on course for the Hamas-run enclave.
The Israeli military confirmed the navy had boarded
the tiny, British-flagged boat, saying there had been no
violence on the part of the troops or the passengers.
"A short while ago, navy forces took over the yacht
Irene and it is now being led with its passengers to Ashdod
port. During the takeover there was no violence of any sort,
either on the part of the troops or the passengers," a
Describing the boat`s attempt to reach Gaza as a
"provocation", the statement said the captain had ignored
repeated warnings by the navy and had entered a closed naval
zone, prompting the interception.
Media reports said the passengers had been handcuffed
and their phones confiscated, but organisers were unable to
confirm the details, saying they had not managed to make
contact with the Irene since it was taken over.
Yonatan Shapira, one of the Israeli activists on
board said on Sunday that the crew would not cooperate if
asked to sail the vessel to Ashdod.
Ahead of the takeover, Shapira said to a news agency by satellite
telephone that the navy had contacted the Irene and ordered it
to change course.
"They said we were approaching an area under naval
blockade and told us to change course," he said as the boat
reached the edge of Gaza`s territorial waters, some 20
nautical miles from the 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 Irene
to "change course" could be heard in the background.
The boat is carrying seven Jewish activists from
Israel, Britain, Germany and the United States, and two
journalists, one of whom is an Israeli.
The activists had insisted they were not looking for a
confrontation with Israeli forces.
"We have a policy of non-violence and
non-confrontation," Shapira, a former Israeli pilot, said