20 Jul 2011

Israeli navy seizes yacht headed for Gaza

12:00 pm on 20 July 2011

The Israeli navy has seized a French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists heading for the blockaded Gaza Strip forced it to go to Israel's Ashdod port.

A senior Israeli navy officer said 16 people, including two crew members, were brought to Israel after commandos boarded the Dignite-Al-Karam yacht in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean.

Deputy navy commander, Rear Admiral Rani Ben-Yehuda, said there were no injuries. Last year, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists when violence erupted as they stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla in the Mediterranean.

The Dignite-Al-Karam had declared an Egyptian port as its destination when it left Greek waters on Sunday, but sailed towards the Palestinian enclave, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas movement.

It had planned to sail to Gaza as part of a flotilla carrying activists and aid, but other vessels were prevented from sailing after docking in Greece. Activists accused the Greek government of intervening on Israel's side.

An Israeli military statement said boarding was necessary because those on the yacht refused to obey instructions to go to Ashdod, some 20 kilometres north-east of the Gaza Strip.

On arrival, all the passengers would be questioned and the foreigners would face deportation, a migration official said.

Israel has vowed to prevent any breach of a blockade that deems necessary to stop arms from reaching Gaza.

Palestinians and their supporters consider the Gaza blockade illegal and say it stunts the economic development of the territory, most of whose 1.5 million residents rely on aid to survive.