Gantz orders Israel Navy to commandeer French ship

After the 'Dignity - Al-Karama' refuses to divert course away from closed naval blockade of Gaza, IDF chief orders navy to take-over, intercept yacht.

July 19, 2011 12:49
2 minute read.
Israel Navy ships

Israel Navy ships 311. (photo credit: REUTERS)

IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ordered the Israel Navy to commandeer and intercept the Gaza-bound French ship Dignity - Al-Karama on Tuesday after negotiation efforts to persuade the yacht to divert its course failed.

The navy warned pro-Palestinian activists aboard the vessel that soldiers are preparing to board the yacht after making initial radio contact with the crew. The navy instructed the crew not to enter the closed naval blockade of the Strip, the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement.

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"We are getting ready to board the ship, we'll do it calmly," an official aboard the navy boat's told the captain of the Dignity.

Activists were offered the legal alternative of reaching Gaza through land crossings, the IDF added.

Three navy ships were on the yacht's left side and another on the right side, activists reported.

After departing from Egypt's Port Said in the direction of Gaza shortly after 6 a.m. on Tuesday, the activists expected to reach Gaza by noon, Israeli-Swedish passenger Dror Feiler said, unless they were stopped by the navy.

A defense official on Monday said that the navy was preparing to stop the ship before it reaches the Strip.

The Dignity is carrying 17 pro-Palestinian activists. It was part of the Free Gaza Movement’s flotilla that was canceled earlier this month after Greece refused to allow the ships to leave its ports for the Gaza Strip.

On Sunday, the ship left Greek waters after declaring Alexandria as its destination. According to Free Gaza, its passengers include Jacqueline Le Corre, a member of the French Communist Party, Jean-Claude Lefort, a former French Member of the European Parliament, and Haaretz correspondent Amira Hass.

While the organizers did not explicitly declare that the ship would sail to Gaza, they said that it was part of the “first wave that will be followed by others.”

“It is a message to the Israeli government, to the international community and to the besieged people of Gaza: The Free Gaza Movement and the coalition of Freedom Flotilla II are not giving up until the inhumane and illegitimate blockade of Gaza is lifted,” the movement said in a press release.

Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said that Israel would stop the vessel.

“If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law...we will intercept it,” he said. “But I assure you that we will try our best to make all those on board very comfortable.”

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