navy patrol gaza 248 88 ap.
(photo credit: AP [file])
An unmanned Palestinian fishing boat loaded with hundreds of kilograms of explosives was remotely detonated as it approached an Israel Navy ship off the coast of the Gaza Strip on Monday.
The vessel was spotted by the navy as it quickly approached Israeli patrol boats, and after confirming the ship was unmanned, the navy maintained a safe distance.
Several seconds later the fishing boat exploded. No one was injured.
The ship had entered an area that is off limits to Palestinian fishermen, raising the navy's suspicions.
Palestinian fishermen are allowed to fish within three kilometers of the Gaza coast.
In the past, the Palestinians have tried to detonate explosives-laden ships next to Israel Navy vessels.
In 2002, four sailors were wounded when Palestinians detonated a fishing boat next to a navy patrol off northern Gaza.
In October 2000, a small ship exploded next to the USS Cole in Yemen, killing 17 American sailors.
"We are aware of the threats at sea and along the coast," a senior navy officer said on Monday. "That is why we are on such a high level of alert when patrolling off the Gaza coast."
IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi on Monday commended the naval forces for following procedures that led to the explosion of the bomb boat before it reached the navy ships.
The senior navy officer said it was possible the explosives were rigged with a timer and that the Palestinians had mistakenly calculated the time it would take to sail to the area near the Israel Navy ships.
Ashkenazi also said Hamas had been deterred from firing Kassam rockets into Israel since Operation Cast Lead in January.
"It is not coincidental that there is no [Kassam] rocket fire from Gaza, but we know that terrorism or attacks along the border fence, by sea or from the Gaza Strip into the Sinai Peninsula, are still on the agenda and we are therefore preparing with all the necessary measures," he said.