Wednesday, July 20, 2011

All foreigners aboard seized Gaza flotilla yacht to leave Israel by end of day

Protesters demonstrate in support of the Gaza freedom flotilla outside the European Union offices in Beirut on July 11, 2011. - Protesters demonstrate in support of the Gaza freedom flotilla outside the European Union offices in Beirut on July 11, 2011. | AFP/Getty Images

Israeli military takes over Gaza-bound French ship

Israeli naval commandos on Tuesday seized control of a French ship attempting to break Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip and towed it into port, reporting no resistance during the takeover in international waters.
The incident was the latest in a series of run-ins on the high seas between the Israeli navy and pro-Palestinian activists trying to breach the blockade. In the most contentious incident, nine Turkish activists were killed in a clash with Israeli commandos last year.
Tuesday's standoff was far more subdued. The navy intercepted the Dignity al-Karama some 40 miles (65 kilometres) off the coast and boarded the ship without incident after the crew ignored calls to change course.
“The takeover was orderly and done with restraint,” the navy's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehudah told reporters at the southern Israeli port of Ashdod. “Nobody was hurt and the ship wasn't damaged.”
Among the activists on board was Stephan Corriveau of Montreal.
A Montreal-based organizer says he was in contact with Mr. Corriveau, the lone Canadian on the boat, until 3 a.m. Tuesday EDT.
“(It) was the last communication that anybody from the boat had with the outside world,” Ehab Lotayef told The Canadian Press.
“At that point there were three Israeli navy boats surrounding the Dignity and the Dignity was in international waters, north of Al-Arish, Egypt.”
Mr. Lotayef said the vessel was “at least 50 kilometres away from any Israeli organized territorial waters.”
He says the plan is to launch more boats to challenge the blockade of Gaza “in a peaceful and non-violent manner, as the Dignity did.”
The military had warned it would stop any attempt to break the sea blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed four years ago in what it says is a measure to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group.
The boat was not carrying aid supplies.
The white boat was taken to the port in Ashdod, where foreign activists were to be questioned and then deported “to their countries of origin as soon as possible,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.
In addition to Mr. Corriveau, passengers included activists from France, Sweden, and Greece. There were also three journalists, including an Israeli, and several crew members.
The Dignity al-Karama was the only ship remaining from a larger protest flotilla that had hoped to sail weeks ago but was blocked by Greek authorities. The activists, who managed to sail out of Greece on Saturday, say they want to draw attention to the situation in Gaza, whose economy has been hit hard by years of closure.
The France-based Platform Palestine group, one of the organizers, said the Israeli takeover “clearly shows the military logic of Israeli politics, which only speaks the language of force.”
In the past, there have been charges that Israel's seizure of boats on the high seas is piracy and contrary to international law. Israel claims it has the right to enforce a quarantine on Gaza to prevent weapons from reaching the territory's militant Hamas rulers, and many international law experts have backed up Israel's contention.
In a text message sent to reporters, the Hamas government in Gaza condemned the seizure of the boat.
Israel imposed the embargo in 2007 after Hamas, an Iranian-backed militant group dedicated to Israel's destruction, seized control of Gaza.
Critics say the blockade has failed to weaken the group and instead has hurt the territory's economy, collectively punishing its 1.6 million people.
Israel withdrew its forces and settlers from Gaza in 2005, but it continues to control most border crossings, as well as its coastline and airspace.More...

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