Israel navy intercepts flotilla ships off Gaza coast

Israel navy intercepts flotilla ships off Gaza coast Jerusalem: The Israeli navy on Friday boarded two international ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists who were trying to break the blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a military statement said.

The Irish-flagged Saoirse ("Freedom") and the Canadian ship Tahrir (Arabic for "Liberation") were intercepted by naval commandos in international waters off the Gaza coast, ending the latest attempt to reach the coastal enclave.

An Israeli security source said there were "no injuries" during the boarding process which occurred just minutes before the start of the Jewish sabbath.

"A short while ago, Israel navy soldiers boarded the vessels which were en route to the Gaza Strip, attempting to break the maritime security blockade that is in place in accordance with international law," the statement said.

The move came after the two ships refused to heed calls to change course, prompting military Chief of Staff Benny Gantz to order their interception.

The Irish boat is carrying 15 passengers and crew members. The Canadian boat has 12 people on board, five of them journalists, and has a cargo of USD 30,000 worth of medical aid and letters of solidarity, organisers said.

Activists organised a major attempt to break the Israeli blockade in May 2010, when six ships led by the Turkish Mavi Marmara tried to reach Gaza.

Israeli troops stormed the Marmara, killing nine Turkish activists and sparking a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, which expelled the Israeli ambassador and has cut military ties with the Jewish state.

Earlier this year, a second flotilla tried to reach Gaza, but several ships were sabotaged -- which activists blamed on Israel. Only the French-flagged yacht, the Dignity, was able to attempt the last leg of the journey but was stopped by the navy and those on board were deported.

Israel says its blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist Hamas movement.

Two months ago, a UN report on the flotilla raid accused the Jewish state of acting with "excessive force" but found that its naval blockade on the coastal territory was legal.