Israel Tows Gaza Activists’ Yacht to Port

Posted July 19th, 2011 at 2:55 pm (UTC-5)
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Israel's navy has towed a French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists to an Israeli port after stopping the activists' attempt to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

Israeli seized the Dignity al-Karama in the Mediterranean and towed it to Ashdod's port on Tuesday. Israeli officials say the activists will be deported.

Sixteen people, including several journalists, were on the yacht when it was boarded by Israeli commandos. Israel says it took control of the vessel after the activists ignored warnings to change their course.

Israel says the takeover was peaceful. A similar naval action last year turned deadly. Nine Turkish activists were killed in clashes after Israeli commandos boarded their Gaza-bound vessel.

Hamas condemned Israel's seizure of the vessel on Tuesday, calling it a violation of human rights.

Israeli officials vow to maintain the naval blockade on Gaza, saying it is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching Palestinian militants.

Pro-Palestinian activists originally planned to send a dozen ships and several hundred people to Gaza from Greece last month. But most of the ships were blocked by Greek authorities.

The yacht stopped Tuesday was the only vessel remaining from the flotilla. It set sail from Greek waters on Sunday.

The flotilla activists say Israel's blockade of Gaza is illegal and immoral and they intended to deliver humanitarian aid and basic staples.

Israel has said that such ships could dock in Israeli or Egyptian ports and have their cargo transferred to Gaza over land through established channels.