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Israeli Navy seizes aid boat headed for Gaza

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Israeli forces board Gaza aid boat
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: Passengers will be deported as early as Sunday
  • Ship later enters Israeli port of Ashdod
  • Israel military says it boarded ship by sea with compliance of crew near Gaza coast
  • Violence erupted five days ago when Israeli forces boarded another ship

Ashdod, Israel (CNN) -- For the second time this week, Israeli naval commandos seized aid headed for the Gaza Strip, but Saturday's action had a peaceful ending.

The Israeli military said it boarded the Irish-owned MV Rachel Corrie 22 miles (35 kilometers) off the Gaza coast with the compliance of the crew. The cargo ship loaded with humanitarian aid had been heading for Gaza on Saturday in defiance of an Israeli blockade.

The incident contrasted with drama in international waters on Monday, when nine Turkish citizens were killed after violence erupted on one of six ships in a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. A number of other people were wounded. Israel said the passengers initiated the attack; the passengers blamed the troops.

That incident drew widespread condemnation and cast a spotlight on the dynamics of the Gaza crisis.

Video: Protest in London over blockade
Video: Israeli forces seize aid boat
RELATED TOPICS
  • Israel
  • Gaza

Israel said its naval blockade is in place to stop weaponry from reaching militants in Gaza intent on attacking Israel. But many people are incensed that the three-year blockade -- imposed after Hamas took over Gaza -- has deepened poverty in the Palestinian territory. According to the United Nations, 80 percent of Gaza's population depends on food aid.

Q&A: Aid and Israel's Gaza blockade

The voyage of the Rachel Corrie on the heels of the raid put the international community on edge until the events unfolded peacefully on Saturday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel "used the exact same procedure" aboard the Rachel Corrie as it did on the Mavi Marmara ship, where the raid occurred.

"Today we saw the difference between a sail of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but honor their right to express a different opinion, and a hate sail organized by terrorism-supporting violent extremists," he said.

Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman Mary Hughes sharply criticized Israel's seizure of the ship.

"This is unacceptable to be happening in international waters," she said.

Reflecting the sentiment of many across the world, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was pleased the incident was "resolved peacefully," but he renewed his stance that Israel needs to lift its closure of Gaza.

As for the passengers, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said they would be processed by Interior Ministry officials and would probably spend the night in a detention center before being deported on Sunday.

"I don't think any of these people will resist deportation," Palmor said. "The scenario is either you agree to be deported or you claim that you have a right to stay. I don't believe any of these people will petition a judge to allow them to stay. They did not show any resistance on the boat. I think tomorrow morning they will all start going to the airport or the border."

The ship was taken to Ashdod, Israel, where its cargo will be offloaded and screened.

As the ship was proceeding to Gaza, the Israeli military said it sent several radio transmissions telling the vessel to change its course before boarding the ship.

A crew member on board the Rachel Corrie who spoke to CNN earlier Saturday said three Israeli ships had been following.

Activists on the ship had said they would surrender peacefully if Israeli forces boarded the boat.

Israel had offered to deliver the aid to Gaza, but passengers rejected the offer, according to a statement from Michael Martin, Ireland's minister for foreign affairs.

Israel said the offer -- formulated with Ireland -- called for representatives of Ireland and the activists to accompany Israel during those steps.

"Unfortunately, the activists rejected this offer, and consequently, the Israeli Navy boarded the ship with full compliance of the ship's crew members, and redirected it to Ashdod port," Israel said.

The Free Gaza Movement, which owns the vessel, said there were 11 passengers and nine crew members on board.

Organizers say the ship was carrying 550 tons of cement to help rebuild schools, homes and other buildings destroyed in Gaza.

Irish Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Maguire, who was aboard the ship, said Friday that the Rachel Corrie was also carrying "tons" of writing materials donated by Norway, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment -- including wheelchairs donated by Scotland -- and toys.

"If, as is their stated intention, the Israeli government intercepts the Rachel Corrie, the government demands that it demonstrate every restraint," said Martin. He called on Israel to lift its blockade.

Monday's violence continues to spark official and grassroots rage in governments and streets inside and outside the Middle East, and it has led to even further deterioration of the relationship between Israel and Turkey, the one-time close allies who have grown apart over the Gaza crisis.

In Istanbul, Turkey's largest city, thousands took to the streets to protest Israel's actions in Gaza. Protests were also staged in London, England, and Paris, France.

At the United Nations, the Security Council called for an inquiry into the flotilla raid, and the Human Rights Council voted for a probe, but Israel said it alone -- and not an international entity -- should be investigating.

The Israel Defense Forces military advocate general said Israel's interception of the flotilla was legal because international law allows a country to stop a vessel in international waters if it attempts to breach a naval blockade.

"We're just hopeful the Israelis will let us make a small gesture for the people of Palestine," former Assistant U.N. Secretary-General Denis Halliday said Thursday. "Because we believe Monday was a gross error."

He added that Monday's confrontation resulted from "faults on both sides," saying the effort on the Rachel Corrie was a "different ball game."

The MV Rachel Corrie was named for a 23-year-old American woman who was killed in Gaza in 2003 while attempting to keep IDF forces from bulldozing the home of a Palestinian.

CNN's Matthew Chance, Paula Hancocks, Paul Colsey and Ivan Watson contributed to this report.

 
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