Israel Intercepts Sole Remnant of Flotilla Heading for Gaza

Elite naval troops take control of the Dignite-Al Karame after it refuses to heed calls to change course.

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The Israel Navy on Tuesday intercepted the last remaining member of a flotilla of boats which had intended to reach the Gaza Strip, after it refused to obey an Israeli demand to change course as it sailed for a Gaza port.

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The French yacht Dignite-Al Karame heading for Gaza, July 19, 2011.Credit: IDF Spokesperson

Elite troops from Israel's Shayetet 13 naval commando unit boarded the French yacht Dignite-Al Karame minutes after Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Benny Gantz issued the order to intercept. The commandos quickly took control of the vessel, with no resistance from those aboard.

"In accordance with government directives, after all diplomatic channels had been exhausted and continuous calls to the vessel had been ignored, IDF (marines) boarded the Karame in an effort to stop it from breaking the maritime security blockade on the Gaza Strip," a military statement said.

The Israel Navy began trailing the Karame while it was some 50 miles from Gaza. The boat was asked to state its final destination and disclose if there were any weapons onboard. One of the group of Greek activists on the ship told the Navy that there were no weapons, and that they were heading to Gaza port.

An IDF official confirmed that the Israel Navy contacted the yacht, and warned it that it is nearing a blockaded area. Defense establishment sources stressed that they would not allow any kind of vessels to dock in the Gaza Strip, so any ship trying to break the blockade would be intercepted.

Following the rapid takeover, the vessel was directed to Ashdod port. There the passengers were to be taken into custody and dealt with by immigration authorities.

The IDF spokesperson stressed that the order to intercept the ship was issued only after the passengers repeatedly refused to answer the demands of the navy or to change course from Gaza. According to the IDF spokesperson, none of the passengers were hurt and IDF soldiers offered the passengers food and beverages once the boat had been intercepted.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said the Dignite-Al Karame had previously declared Alexandria, Egypt, as its destination so it could slip out of Greece, and then changed its route to Gaza. This, she said, was a legal act.

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