Image: Jewish activists on Gaza-bound boat
Petros Karadjias  /  AP
Naval forces took control of a Gaza-bound boat with 9 Jewish activists aboard, shown here as it sets sail from Famagusta harbour in the Turkish-occupied north of ethnically divided Cyprus on Sunday. The trip came nearly four months after Israeli commandos boarded a flotilla of Gaza-bound ships, killing nine activists.
NBC News and news services
updated 9/28/2010 6:47:12 AM ET 2010-09-28T10:47:12

Israeli officials said Tuesday that naval forces have taken over a Gaza-bound boat carrying nine Jewish activists without violence.

The Israeli Navy boarded the boat and were towing it to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod, NBC News reported.

The military said "the boarding of the yacht was without incident and no violence of any kind was used by neither the passengers onboard nor the Israel naval forces."

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The navy had earlier made contact with the ship and ordered it to stop moving forward, NBC News reported. Israeli forces had said they would take control of the ship should it fail to respond to its calls.

The Irene is the latest vessel to try to breach the three-year-old embargo on the Palestinian territory in the wake of the deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-led flotilla in May, which drew international condemnation.

The passengers on the Irene, including a former Israeli fighter pilot and eight other activists from Israel and other countries, had said they wanted to show that not all Jews support the Israeli blockade.

Miri Weingarten, a spokeswoman for the activists who was in touch with them when they were halted, said one person was handcuffed as the naval forces boarded the boat.

She said a lawyer for the activists hoped to meet them in Ashdod, and that the group had also asked that a doctor be allowed access to examine an 82-year-old activist on board.

Before the boarding, the catamaran's captain, Glynn Secker, had said he expected the navy to intercept the Irene.

"We will not obey them, we will not help them," Secker said. "But we will not confront them physically. We will engage in no violence."

'Politically motivated provocation'
Israel had asked the vessel, which Secker said was carrying medicine, therapeutic toys, water purifiers and outboard engines, to dock in an Israeli port. Cargo that receives security clearance would be transported to Gaza.

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The Israeli foreign ministry labeled the voyage "a politically motivated provocation."

Nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed in May when Israeli commandos raided the lead ship in the Turkish-led flotilla. Both sides claimed they acted in self-defense.

The international condemnation triggered by the deaths forced Israel to relax its land blockade of Gaza, but the naval blockade has remained in force. Israel, with Egypt's cooperation, imposed the blockade after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza in June 2007.

The measure was intended to keep out weapons, turn Gazans against their militant Hamas rulers and pressure the group to free a captive Israeli soldier.

Those aims were not achieved but the embargo deepened the misery of Gaza's 1.5 million people.

Activists behind the convoy involved in May's deadly raid have said they will send a new flotilla of at least eight ships to try to break the blockade by the end of this year.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group of pro-Palestinian activist behind the efforts, said no specific date had been set.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.


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