Israeli Forces Seize and Board Vessel Bound for Gaza

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israeli forces seized a Gaza-bound aid vessel without meeting resistance on Saturday, preventing it from breaking an Israeli maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory days after a similar effort turned bloody.

The military said its forces boarded the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie cargo ship from the sea, not helicopters.

The takeover stood in marked contrast to a violent confrontation at sea earlier this week when Israeli commandos blocked a Turkish aid vessel trying to break the blockade. At the time, Israeli commandos rappelled from helicopters and a clash with passengers left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead.

Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich says Saturday’s takeover took only a few minutes and that the vessel was being taken to Israel’s Ashdod port.

The Irish ship — named for an American college student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza — was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

The standoff has raised international pressure on Israel to lift the 3-year-old blockade that has plunged the territory’s 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty.

Activists on board the boat, including Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan, had said they wouldn’t resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel.

This latest attempt to breach the blockade differs significantly from the flotilla the Israeli troops intercepted on Monday, killing eight Turks and a Turkish-American after being set upon by a group of activists.

Nearly 700 activists had joined that operation, most of them aboard the lead boat from Turkey that was the scene of the violence. That boat, the Mavi Marmara, was sponsored by an Islamic aid group from Turkey, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. Israel outlawed the group, known by its Turkish acronym IHH, in 2008 because of alleged ties to Hamas. The group is not on the U.S. State Department list of terror organizations, however.

By contrast, the Rachel Corrie was carrying just 11 passengers from Ireland and Malaysia, whose effort was mainly sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, a Cyprus-based group that has renounced violence. Nine crew were also on board.

[original]

spotted by RS

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