Israeli navy challenges Gaza-bound ‘aid boat’


Marines tell crew on French yacht they will take control of the boat if it does not change course and leave the area
Israeli naval vessels have told a French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists intending to sail to the Gaza Strip to leave the area, according to an Al Jazeera correspondent.
He said a communication from an Israeli vessel told the yacht on Tuesday that marines would take control of the boat if it did not heed their instructions.
“The boat is surrounded by at least three Israeli ships and since 9.06am (0706 GMT) all the communications have been jammed. We can’t get in touch with them by phone or by internet,” Julien Rivoire, an organiser, said by phone from Paris.
The 17-passenger Dignite Al Karama had declared an Egyptian port as its destination when it left Greek waters on Sunday.
However, activists on board said they were redirecting towards the Gaza Strip, which is under Israeli siege, and were hoping to arrive by Tuesday afternoon.
“We’re cleaning ourselves up a little bit before arriving. Morale here is like the sky and sea – very good,” wrote French activists on board, adding in English: “Gaza, off we go, stay connected!!!”
The boat is originally part of a 10-ship flotilla which had been due to sail for Gaza at the end of June.

On Monday, Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said the Jewish state would prevent any attempt to breach the naval blockade on Gaza.

“If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law, and tries a provocative act – yes, we shall intercept it,” he told reporters in Jerusalem.

“But I assure you we shall try our best to make those on board very comfortable.”

Israel maintains that its blockade of Gaza is legal and necessary to prevent the Palestinian group Hamas that controls the territory from obtaining weapons and funds.

But Thomas Sommer-Houdeville, French activist, reached on board the boat on Monday evening said the vessel was only carrying a “symbolic message of peace and hope and love”.

Israel, he said, had no reason to intercept it.

“We hope that they will not, we don’t have a plan but we have a peaceful humanitarian mission. We are a peaceful boat flying a French flag,” he said.

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla in the Mediterranean last year. The government has vowed to stop any new attempt to breach the blockade.

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