The Israeli navy intercepted and boarded the French-flagged Dignite Al-Karame boat on Tuesday as it approached the Gaza Strip.
At least three Israeli military ships had surrounded the yacht as it neared Gaza, seeking to breach Israel’s blockade on the territory, an organizer told AFP on Tuesday.
The Israeli navy said it had “exhausted” all diplomatic channels but the vessel had ignored the calls. The navy then took control of the ship and are taking it to the port of Ashdod.
Following the seizure, the passengers’ health was examined and they were offered food and beverages, an army statement said.
The passengers will face questioning upon arrival at the Israeli port and will be referred to immigration authorities.
The Israeli army had released a statement earlier saying that ‘contact’ had been made with the boat.
“The boat is surrounded by at least three Israeli ships and since 9:06 am all the communications have been jammed. We can’t get in touch with them by phone or by Internet,” one of the organizers Julien Rivoire said by phone from Paris.
“We call on the French government to take its responsibilities and to protect the passengers, and to call on Israel not resort to violence.”
The boat set sail for Gaza after a night anchored at sea, despite Israeli warnings that it would intercept the vessel — the only boat remaining from a flotilla of 10 ships that had planned to breach Israel’s blockade this summer.
The Israel navy earlier warned the Dignite Al-Karame that it is on route to “an area under a maritime security blockade” and told them that any supplies they carry can be transferred through land crossings and the Ashdod port.
Organizers of the ship had said they expected it to arrive in Gaza on Tuesday.
“This ‘little’ boat symbolizes the determination of the international solidarity movement to break the blockade on Gaza and express its support for the 1.6 million Palestinians imprisoned there since 2007,” a statement from the boat said Monday.
“The fact that the Dignite Al Karama is at sea is a setback for the Israeli government which by force or by pressure is trying to perpetuate an illegal and criminal blockade and to silence civil society movements around the world,” it said.
The French-flagged vessel had managed to escape the clutches of the Greek coastguard on July 5, but two days later, it was blocked by the authorities in Crete when it stopped to refuel.
A 10 ship Freedom Flotilla had been due to sail from Greece at the end of June but was hit by a wave of red tape and technical faults which organizers blamed on Israel.
Israel has vowed to prevent any attempt to reach Gaza by sea in defiance of its naval blockade which was first imposed in 2006 after militants there captured an Israeli soldier.
Rights groups have the condemned the blockade as a form of collective punishment of the 1.6 million Gaza residents.