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Israel Intercepts Solo Vessel Trying to Run Gaza Blockade

Israeli naval battle ship sails after escorting the vessel the Dignity al-Karama towards the port of Ashdod ,Israel, July 19, 2011

International activists trying to sail in a French yacht to the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip have been intercepted by the Israeli Navy.

A French boat carrying 16 pro-Palestinian activists and journalists tried to break Israel's blockade on Gaza but it was confronted by Israeli warships.

Navy "This is [the] Israeli Navy, what is your final destination?"
Ship "Our final destination is Gaza Port, is Gaza City, Gaza Port."

Israeli army spokesman Barak Raz said the vessel was ordered to change course, but it refused.

"It became apparent that it would continue on to the Gaza Strip and not redirect itself, so the Israeli military received directives from the government to board the boat, which the Navy did in a very professional manner," said Raz.

The passengers did not resist and there was no violence.

The interception marked the end of a flotilla protest that fizzled: 11 other ships and 300 international activists were blocked from leaving ports in Greece with tons of humanitarian aid for the Palestinians in Gaza.

Greece said it wanted to avoid a repeat of a year ago when an Israeli commando raid on an aid flotilla left nine Turkish activists dead and raised regional tensions.

Greece clamped down after the United States, European Union and United Nations came out against this year's flotilla and urged activists to take their cargo to Gaza via legal channels over land.

“We are very disappointed that Israel has missed yet another opportunity to end the siege, and we're very disappointed that the other powers of the world, such as the British and American governments, have allowed Israel to do this," said Alex Harrison, a spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, one of the groups that organized the flotilla.

Activists say the blockade is illegal and immoral, but Israel says it is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the Palestinian militant group Hamas that rules Gaza. Hamas said the French ship was clearly unarmed, and it described the interception as an act of "piracy, a war crime and a violation of human rights."

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