Navy boards 'Rachel Corrie' off Gaza

IDF forces dock ship in Ashdod, none harmed.

MV Rachel Corrie boarded 311 (photo credit: IDF)
MV Rachel Corrie boarded 311
(photo credit: IDF)
IDF forces piloted the Rachel Corrie to the port of Ashdod early Saturday evening after boarding the ship earlier in the day.
None were harmed in the military operation as the international activists on the ship cooperated with the boarding party. The activists went as far as lowering a ladder to the soldiers patrol boat to allow them to board, army sources have revealed.
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The boarding of the Rachel Corrie containing activists and aid for Gaza was described by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu on Saturday as a quiet operation. Netanyahu was quick to distinguish between the boat of Irish and Malaysian activists and the Turkish-sponsored Mavi Marmara which was boarded May 31 in an incident that left nine dead and scores wounded.
"The different outcome we saw today underscores the difference between peace activists who we disagree with but respect their right to express their different opinion and flotilla participants [on the Mavi Marmara] who were violent extremist supporters of terrorists," said Netanyahu.
IDF navy forces boarded and took control of the MV Rachel Corrie Saturday afternoon. The troops did not meet any resistance from activists attempting to break the Gaza blockade, and the operation was completed without violent incidents.
The military said its forces boarded the 1,200-ton cargo ship from the sea, not helicopters. Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich said Saturday's takeover took only a few minutes and that the vessel was being taken to Ashdod port.
Prior to the takeover, three navy ships tailed the aid boat for several hours throughout the morning, a few dozen kilometers from the blockaded Strip. The army said it had contacted the boat four times and urged its passengers to divert to Ashdod, but the activists had repeatedly refused.
The IDF had said that it would have no choice but to board the ship if it did not agree to go to Ashdod.
Earlier reports had suggested that the Rachel Corrie had already been boarded in the early morning, but the army and the boat’s passenger’s later said this was not true.
The ship was trying to breach the three-year-old blockade to deliver a load of aid to the coastal territory.
"There were two warships in the back of them ... and a smaller boat was approaching," said activist Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza movement, which sent the ship. She was speaking from the movement's headquarters in Cyprus and was citing a passenger on board.
The military said it had made contact with the boat and notified it that it was approaching an area under blockade. The navy had told the Rachel Corrie that “The Israeli government supports delivery of humanitarian supplies to the civilian population in the Gaza Strip and invites you to enter the Ashdod port. Delivery of the supplies … will be done via the formal land crossings and under your observation."
Activists on board the Irish boat insisted they would not resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel. They rejected Israeli and US appeals to bring the ship to Ashdod.
Foreign Ministry director Yossi Gal told reporters Israel has "no desire to board the ship. If the ship decides to sail to the port of Ashdod, then we will ensure its safe arrival and will not board it."
This latest attempt to breach the blockade differs significantly from the flotilla the army intercepted on Monday, killing eight Turks and an 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. By contrast, the Rachel Corrie was carrying just 11 passengers, whose effort was mainly sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, a Cyprus-based group that has renounced violence.