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NEW: Group protests Israeli 'hijacking' of ship in international waters

Ship escorted to Israel port

Netanyahu praises military's arrest of passengers

(CNN) —  

Israeli officials said Monday that the country’s military had blocked a ship trying to break the blockade of Gaza, boarding it in international waters, arresting people on board, and directing it to dock in an Israeli port.

The group trying to run the blockade said Israel had “hijacked” the ship in an act of “piracy.”

The Israeli Defense forces said in a statement that it had ordered the ship to change course but it did not, so military action was taken.

Blockade criticized

Israel has maintained the blockade since 2007. Israeli officials say it is needed to stop the Palestinians from launching rocket attacks on Israeli cities – and to prevent Hamas, the Islamic organization that runs the Gaza strip, from getting new weapons.

The blockade has been criticized by the UN Secretary-General, the United States,and various international organizations.

“After exhausting all diplomatic channels the Israeli government ordered the Israeli Navy to redirect the vessel in order to prevent breach of the naval blockade,” the IDF statement said.

“In accordance with international law, the Israeli Navy advised the vessel several times to change course,” the statement said. “Following their refusal the Navy visited and searched the vessel in international waters in order to prevent their intended breach of the maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. The forces have reported that use of force was unnecessary, and that the process was uneventful. The vessel is currently being escorted to Ashdod Port and is expected to arrive within 12-24 hours.”

Ashdod is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) south of Tel Aviv.

Praise from the prime minister

Caption:Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured in April. On Monday, Netanyahu praised the Israeli military's diversion of a boat trying to violate the Gaza blockade. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)
Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty
Caption:Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pictured in April. On Monday, Netanyahu praised the Israeli military's diversion of a boat trying to violate the Gaza blockade. MENAHEM KAHANA/AFP/Getty Images)

In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu applauded the military’s handling of the situation.

“I want to praise the soldiers and commanders of the navy on the steadfast and efficient operation in arresting the passengers of the boat that tried to enter the Gaza coastline against the law,” the Prime Minister’s statement said. “This flotilla represents nothing except a fake, artificial demonstration aimed at helping the terrorist organization – Hamas and ignores all the carnage in our region.”

Netanyahu said Israel protects itself according to international law.

Group: Israel ‘hijacked’ ship in international waters

In a statement, Ship to Gaza Sweden, the group trying to break the blockade, said the Swedish-flagged fishing trawler Marianne of Gothenburg had been boarded by the Israeli Defense Forces about 100 nautical miles (115 miles) from Gaza, in international waters.

The group referred to the boarding of the the Marianne as an “attack,” and described the crew as “captured,” and the ship as “hijacked.”

“Ship to Gaza Sweden protest against this flagrant abuse of the freedom of navigation,” the group said in a statement. “Israel’s repeated acts of piracy in international waters are worrying signs that the occupation and blockade policy extends to the entire eastern Mediterranean.

“We demand that Marianne be returned, and that her crew and passengers will be immediately released, so that they can continue their journey to their destination in Gaza.”

The group said three other boats had turned back toward Greek ports.

CNN’s Don Melvin in London contributed to this report.