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Saturday, June 5, 2010

MV Rachel Corrie : Israel seizes Gaza aid ship Peaceful takeover occurs days after bloody raid

JERUSALEM - Israeli forces seized a Gaza-bound aid vessel without meeting resistance Saturday, preventing it from breaking an Israeli maritime blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory days after a similar effort turned bloody.
The IDF said they informed the crew of the MV Rachel Corrie that the Gaza Strip was under blockade and that the ship should put to port in the southern coastal city of Ashdod.
However, officials said the Irish ship continued steaming toward Gaza despite the presence of three Israeli warships sent to shadow the vessel. 

The ship — named for an American college student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza — was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.
The Rachel Corrie had got to roughly 40 miles off the coast of Gaza at about 8 a.m. local time (1 a.m. ET) Saturday when officials asked the crew by radio to identify themselves, Israeli officials told NBC news.
"You are approaching an area of hostilities which is under a naval blockade," the military said in a transcript of excerpts of its communication with the ship.


  U.S. attempts to avert Gaza conflict
June 4: Former Middle East negotiator Aaron David Miller talks about an additional activist ship heading to Gaza amid calls for Israel to end the blockade and the effect it could have on international relations.
Andrea Mitchell Reports
It urged the boat to divert to Ashdod, where its cargo would be unloaded and transferred to Gaza if it passed a security inspection, but the ship rejected the invitation, the military said.
The military said its forces boarded the ship from the sea, without using helicopters.
The operation went peacefully and the boat was en route to Ashdod, the IDF told NBC News.
"The ship has been boarded and there was full compliance from the crew and passengers on board," an Israeli military spokesperson told Reuters.
The IDF posted a video taken from the air on the internet which it said showed its forces boarding the Rachel Corrie. A spokesperson for Free Gaza Ireland confirmed to that the boat in the footage was the Rachel Corrie.
The takeover stood in contrast to a violent confrontation at sea Monday when Israeli commandos blocked a Turkish aid convoy of six ships trying to break the blockade. At the time, the commandos rappelled from helicopters and a clash with passengers left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead. 

Taken 'hostage'
Greta Berlin, of the Free Gaza movement, which was sponsoring the Rachel Corrie, said in a statement the Israeli military "forcibly seized the Irish-owned humanitarian relief ship."
"For the second time in less then a week, Israeli naval commandos stormed an unarmed aid ship, brutally taking its passengers hostage and towing the ship toward Ashdod port in Southern Israel," she said. "It is not yet known whether any of the Rachel Corrie's passengers were killed or injured during the attack, but they are believed to be unharmed."
Those aboard had said in advance they would not resist any boarding

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