The Israeli navy on Tuesday seized a French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists intending to sail to the blockaded Gaza Strip and forced it to go to Israel's Ashdod port, a military spokeswoman said.
There were no reports of violence as the marines boarded the "Dignite-AlKarama" yacht in the eastern Mediterranean, she said.
"I can confirm that the yacht has been boarded and that everything went smoothly, there were no casualties," the spokeswoman said.
Chief military spokesman Brigadier-General Yoav Mordechai said the passengers were transferred from the small yacht to one of the warships and were sailing to Ashdod.
The 17-passenger yacht had declared an Egyptian port as its destination when it left Greek waters on Sunday but then said it was changing course towards the Palestinian enclave and hoped to arrive by Tuesday afternoon.
It had planned to sail to Hamas-ruled Gaza as part of a flotilla carrying activists and aid, but other vessels were prevented from sailing after docking in Greece. Activists accused the Greek government of intervening on Israel's side.
"In accordance with government directives, after all diplomatic channels had been exhausted and continuous calls to the vessel had been ignored, IDF (marines) boarded the Al-Karame in an effort to stop it from breaking the maritime security blockade on the Gaza Strip," a military statement said.
It added that the boarding became necessary because those on the yacht refused to obey instructions to go to Ashdod port.
"The soldiers operated in line with procedures and took every precaution necessary while using all operational tactics determined prior to the operation, to avoid causing harm to the activists on board while ensuring the safety of the soldiers.
The statement said that upon arrival in Ashdod, some 20 kms (12 miles) northeast of the Gaza Strip, the passengers would be questioned by police and some could face deportation.
Israel, whose marines killed nine Turkish activists when they stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla in the Mediterranean last year, had vowed to stop any new attempt to breach a naval blockade it deems necessary to prevent arms from reaching Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist group Hamas.
Palestinians and their supporters consider the Gaza blockade illegal and say it stunts the economic development of the territory, most of whose 1.5 million residents rely on aid to survive.
ReutersGüncelleme Tarihi: 19 Temmuz 2011, 15:09