Flotilla - AP, July 19, 2011
Israeli naval boats escort the Dignite-Al-Karame yacht into the port of Ashdod, July 19, 2011. Photo by AP
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The Israel Navy yesterday intercepted a French yacht off the Gaza coast after it refused to obey an order to change course.

The Dignite-Al Karame was the last vessel of an international flotilla that sought to reach the Gaza Strip but was mostly thwarted.

Naval commandos boarded the boat, took its 16 passengers and crew members into custody aboard a naval vessel and brought them and the yacht to the Ashdod port.

The commandos took control of the vessel quickly and faced no resistance from the passengers.

The navy and Israeli intelligence agencies had been monitoring the boat since it left Greece on Saturday. The captain had told Greek authorities that he was sailing to Alexandria, but after entering Egyptian territorial waters Monday night he subsequently turned east, toward Gaza.

The navy vessels that were following the yacht made radio contact with it at about 10 A.M. yesterday, before using a public address system for subsequent communication. Officers instructed the boat to change course and not to enter the area of the blockaded Gaza coast. They told the passengers they could dock in Egypt or in Ashdod and travel overland to Gaza.

The navy then blocked electronic communications from the boat, a broadcast by an Al Jazeera reporter on board.

At one point the captain came on deck and shouted that the passengers had taken over the ship, but sources in the Israel Defense Forces said they believed he said this to avoid getting in trouble with the Greek authorities after misleading them about the yacht's destination.

After about two hours of verbal exchanges Chief of Staff Benny Gantz ordered the navy to intercept the vessel. It was then 65 nautical miles from the Gaza coast and 12 nautical miles beyond Egyptian territorial waters.

Adm. Eliezer Marom, commander of the Israel Navy, oversaw the interception.

Officers first tried to persuade the passengers to permit them to board but after a few minutes, when the passengers continued to refuse, Marom gave the order to board by force.

Three small navy boats pulled up alongside the yacht and the commandos boarded. They offered the passengers food and drink and brought them onto the ship Kidon.

The passengers were then examined to make sure none of them had been injured during the interception. Naval officers took control of the yacht and steered it to the Ashdod port.

A search of the vessel turned up neither weapons nor supplies intended for Gaza.

"This was not a humanitarian mission," a senior IDF officer said. "It was a provocation for the sake of provocation, part of the campaign to delegitimize Israel."

The Kidon, with the 16 passengers from the Dignite Al Karame, docked at Ashdod port yesterday afternoon. The passengers were handed over to the police and immigration authorities.

At a press briefing at the port, Israel Navy Deputy Commander Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehuda said: "The interception was controlled and restrained," adding that it was carried out after repeated warnings to the passengers.

"When they did not comply with these warnings the force approached the ship and boarded, moving the passengers aside to avoid injury to them." Ben-Yehuda said there were no injuries and no damage to the ship.