Israeli forces board Jewish Gaza-bound aid ship
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Last Updated: Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 21:27
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 statement said.

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 on Sunday.


First Published: Tuesday, September 28, 2010, 21:27

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