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Israel Intercepts Arab Boat Trying to Break Gaza Blockade

In a continuation of recent tensions, Israeli gunboats intercepted a Lebanese ship trying to break the blockade on Gaza.

Speaking by cell phone from the boat, a reporter for the Arab TV station Al Jazeera said Israeli troops stormed on board and threatened the crew. She said some passengers were beaten.

The ship set sail from the Lebanese port of Tripoli carrying activists and 60 tons of humanitarian supplies. Passengers included a Syrian-born Catholic priest, a Muslim cleric, a lawyer and several Arab journalists.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said the boat was first diverted to the Egyptian port of El Arish.

Barak said the boat turned around and tried to "sneak" into Gaza. He said the navy intercepted the boat and towed it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israel says its crippling naval blockade on Gaza is aimed at preventing weapons smuggling to the ruling Islamic militant group Hamas.

In recent months, Israel has allowed several boats with pro-Palestinian activists to sail into Gaza in defiance of the blockade, saying it wanted to avoid negative publicity. But Israel has tightened the blockade since its 22-day offensive in Gaza ended two weeks ago.

Lebanon's Prime Minister Fouad Siniora said the boat had nothing to do with weapons smuggling.

Siniora said the same Israel that "commits massacres against innocent civilians in Lebanon and Gaza" is not ashamed to assault a ship carrying humanitarian supplies.