The Israeli navy intercepted a ship carrying foreign peace activists trying to break a blockade of Gaza on Tuesday and forced it to sail to an Israeli port, the military said.
A statement said the Greek-registered freighter Arion ignored a radio message from the Israeli military saying it would not be allowed to enter Gaza waters and ordering it to turn back.
The statement said naval personnel boarded the small vessel without any shots being fired.
The military said those on board would be handed over to immigration authorities on arrival in the southern port of Ashdod, and humanitarian cargo would be trucked into the Gaza Strip after a security check. The ship arrived at Ashdod port after nightfall.
An earlier statement by the voyage’s organizers, the Free Gaza Movement, said the vessel, renamed the Spirit of Humanity, left the Cypriot port of Larnaca on Monday bound for Gaza with three tons of medical supplies.
The 20 passengers include former U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire and other activists from Britain, Ireland, Bahrain and Jamaica.
The ship was flying a Greek flag, but no Greek citizens were aboard. The Greek government issued a statement saying it sent a message to Israel demanding that it release the ship, crew and passengers.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said Israel was planning to free the crew and passengers. “Nobody wants to keep them here,” he said. “They will be released as soon as they are checked.”
The Free Gaza Movement has organized five boat trips to Gaza since August 2008, defying a blockade imposed by Israel when the militant group Hamas seized control of the territory from its Palestinian rivals in June 2007.
Two other attempts were stopped by Israeli warships during Israel’s three-week war in the territory in December and January. Nobody on board was harmed.