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Israeli forces take over Gaza-bound boat; no resistance reported

From Amir Ahmed, CNN
Benny Gantz, pictured in February, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, confirmed that naval forces seized the vessel.
Benny Gantz, pictured in February, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, confirmed that naval forces seized the vessel.
  • Israel seizes the Dignite without violent resistance from the 16 people aboard
  • Activists say they want to break what they call the "siege of Gaza"
  • Israel says its control of Gaza's borders is to keep weapons out of militants' hands
  • Israel
  • Gaza
  • Middle East Conflict
  • Hamas

(CNN) -- Israeli naval forces Tuesday successfully took over a boat of activists intent on breaking what they call the "siege of Gaza" without violent resistance.

Benny Gantz, chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, confirmed that naval forces had been ordered to seize the vessel, known as the Dignite, as it approached the coast of Gaza, where a maritime security blockade is in force.

The forces "operated in line with procedures and took every precaution necessary while using all operational tactics determined prior to the operation, and avoid causing harm to the activists on board while ensuring the safety of the soldiers," the IDF said.

After the boarding, "the passengers' health was examined and they were offered food and beverages."

The Dignite -- carrying 10 activists, three crew members and three journalists -- is affiliated with the Free Gaza Movement, whose aim is to break the "siege of Gaza."

Greta Berlin, spokeswoman for the Free Gaza Movement, said the boat declared its destination as Alexandria, Egypt, so that it could leave Greek waters.

But it changed its destination in international waters, which is legal, Berlin said.

Four navy boats surrounded the Dignite as it approached the coast of Gaza, the boat's organizers said.

After the Israeli Navy intercepted the vessel, it engaged in a "dialogue" with the activists "in an attempt to dissuade them from continuing on their route" toward a maritime security blockade off the Gaza coast, the IDF said.

It said that any supplies on board "may be transferred, legally, through the existing land crossings and the Ashdod port."

However, the IDF said, "all diplomatic channels had been exhausted and continuous calls to the vessel had been ignored."

Given the groups' "unwillingness to arrive at the Ashdod port," the IDF said, "it was unequivocally necessary to board the vessel and lead it to Ashdod."

"After all the options we suggested were refused, we decided to take over the yacht. We realized that the captain was lying. He lied to the authorities in Greece about his sailing route and changed it from Egypt to Gaza," said IDF spokesman Brig. Gen. Yoav Mordechai.

The boat was taken to Ashdod, and the relevant security authorities and the Israel police were set to begin the process of questioning the passengers, who will then be transferred to the Ministry of Interior and the immigration authorities, officials said.

Israel insists on controlling access to Gaza because it says it has to keep weapons out of the hands of Palestinian militants who would use them to attack Israelis.

Gaza is run by Hamas, which has carried out dozens of terrorist attacks and is listed by the United States as a terrorist organization.

Israel emphasizes that it delivers large amounts of aid to Gaza. The country mounted a diplomatic offensive to try to stop the flotilla from setting sail.

The ship was part of a group of vessels that had planned to sail to Gaza in an effort to promote public awareness about Israel's blockade of the area. The others were grounded in Greece.

The activists connected with the Freedom Flotilla, as they call it, also wanted to commemorate a May 2010 incident in which Israeli troops boarded the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship filled with humanitarian aid and 700 activists from various countries. Nine people died in clashes with Israeli Navy commandos.

"The Dignite carries a message of solidarity and human empathy from the people of the world to the people of Gaza, and all of Palestine, that Israel's violence can never silence," the group said.