Israeli forces board Gaza-bound ships

Video grab of ship believed to be the MV Saoirse today - taken from video posted online by Israeli Defences Forces vessel approaching flotilla.

Israeli forces have boarded an Irish ship sailing in a so-called 'Freedom Waves' aid convoy to Gaza, it was confirmed this afternoon.

The MV Saoirse was boarded by the Israeli navy along with its sister ship the Canadian-registered Tahrir.

"Israel Navy soldiers boarded the provocative vessels after all attempts to prevent them from breaking the maritime security blockade failed," Israeli military spokesperson Avital Liebovitch confirmed.

"The boarding followed numerous calls to the activists onboard," she added.

"Israel Navy took every precaution to ensure safety of activists."

Lt Colonel Liebovitch said the vessels would be brought to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where,the activists will be transferred to the custody of police.

The boats are carrying 27 passengers from seven countries.

Flotilla organisers said they were sailing through international waters directly to Gaza, and would not pass through Israeli territorial waters.

""I want to pay tribute to the bravery and determination of those onboard the MV Saoirse and the other participants in the "Freedom Waves" effort to bring desperately needed aid and solidarity to the besieged people of Gaza," TD Richard Boyd Barrett, chair of the Irish Anti War Movement, said in a statement.

"The people onboard the "Freedom Waves" ships are literally taking their life in their hands to try and bring assistance to the suffering people of Gaza and to challenge the cruel and inhuman Israeli siege of its 1.5 million citizens.”

In a statement this afternoon, the Israel embassy in Ireland said the Gaza flotilla is a provocative publicity stunt that serves no practical purpose.

Earlier in Gaza, an activist said protesters aboard the boats said they were surrounded by Israeli naval vessels. Then contact with the activists was lost when their satellite phones stopped working.

The Israeli military issued a short video clip showing a naval official calling on the ships to turn around.

“The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to maritime traffic as part of a blockade imposed for security purposes,” the unnamed officer said.

“Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supplies can be delivered to the Gaza Strip by land, and you are welcome to enter (Israel’s) Ashdod port and deliver supplies through land crossings.”

Israel’s navy has intercepted similar protest ships in the past, towing them to an Israeli port and detaining participants.

Israel says its naval blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching militant groups like Hamas, the Iran-backed group that rules the territory. Critics call the blockade collective punishment of Gaza’s residents.

Last year, nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when they resisted an Israeli operation to halt a similar flotilla. Each side blamed the other for the violence.

The incident sparked an international outcry and forced Israel to ease its land blockade on Gaza.

Militants in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past decade, and now have much of southern Israel is in range.

Speaking after prayers at a Gaza City mosque, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, addressed the passengers aboard the boats, saying: “Your message has been delivered whether you make it or not.”

“The siege is unjust and must end,” Haniyeh said.

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