The Israel Navy commandeered and intercepted the Gaza-bound French ship Dignity – Al-Karama after negotiations to persuade over a dozen pro-Palestinian activists aboard to divert their course away from the Strip’s closed naval blockade failed.
Navy soldiers did not encounter any resistance during the interception which resulted after the crew refused to cooperate with the IDF’s demand to divert its course to the Ashdod Port, the IDF Spokesperson said in a statement.
Upon arrival at Ashdod, the activists will be transferred to police and immigration officials, the IDF added.
Shortly before the take-over, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz ordered the navy to take control of the yacht.
The navy initially warned the crew aboard the vessel that soldiers were preparing to board the yacht after making initial radio contact. The navy instructed the crew not to enter Gaza’s closed naval blockade, the IDF said.
"We are getting ready to board the ship, we’ll do it calmly," a navy official 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 was 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.”