Activists aboard French vessel Dignite al Karama refuse Navy's request to divert course to Ashdod Port or Egypt. IDF chief green-lights ship's takeover, Navy informs vessel to prepare for boarding; activists surrender peacefully
Latest Update: 07.19.11
The Israeli Navy stopped the Gaza-bound flotilla ship Dignite al Karama from reaching the Strip Tuesday afternoon. The Israeli marines met no resistance by the activists.
Around 10:30 am, Israel Navy ships intercepted the French vessel, hailed it and informed it that is was nearing the Gaza blockade lines and must head to Ashdod Port or Egypt.
The Navy stressed that at any time prior to marines boarding the ship, it will allow the vessel to turn around and sail to another destination.
The ship refused to divert its course, prompting IDF Chief of Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz to give the Navy the green light to board the vessel.
When the Dignite al Karama was about 12 nautical miles from Gaza, the military hailed in again and told the passengers to prepare for a "calm boarding." Navy Chief Admiral Eliezer Marom oversaw the operation, which was reportedly over within minutes.
Navy sources said the takeover was uneventful and that the passengers were transferred to one of the naval ships participating in the mission, where a physician made sure they were in good health and they were provided with food and water.
The Navy will now escort the French vessel to Ashdod Port, where preparations are underway to process the activists and any goods they may be carrying with them. The Dignite al Karama previously said it was carrying passengers only.
Prior to the operation, the Navy stressed that they were prepared for any scenario vis-à-vis the Dignite al Karama: "The yacht was told that it is on a route leading to an area under a maritime security blockade off the coast of Gaza, and that any supplies they may have on board may be transferred, legally, through the existing land crossings and the Ashdod Port," a military source said.
The Dignite al Karama left the Greek island of Kastellorizo late on Saturday, carrying 16 people.
The IDF confirmed the passenger manifest, saying that among the 16 were an al-Jazeera TV crew and a French parliament member.
The Population and Immigration Authority (PIA) said the activists aboard the French ship were effectively entering Israel illegally and will be dealt with as such.
The PIA said that the activists are likely to be deported, a process which will also bar them from entering Israel in the next 10 years.
The activists, the PIA added, will be given the choice of flying back to their respective homelands immediately, or waiting in detention facility for a hearing before a judge.
Military sources said that the Navy had been monitoring the ship since it left Greece on Saturday.
The vessel's declared destination was Egypt but when the Navy contacted the ship Tuesday, the captain said that at some points in the sail the passengers took over the ship and made him change course to Gaza Strip.
The military believes he is trying to shrug off responsibility for changing the ship's declared destination.
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