Israeli naval troops take control of the Dignite-Al Karama en route to the Gaza Strip
Israeli naval forces have boarded a French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists who had intended to sail to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
The vessel is being taken to the port of Ashdod, an Israeli military spokeswoman said on Tuesday .
“I can confirm that the yacht has been boarded and that everything went smoothly, there were no casualties,” she said.
There were no immediate reports of any violence as the marines boarded the Dignite-Al Karama yacht in the eastern Mediterranean.
Earlier, Israeli naval vessels had told activists they would take control of the boat unless it left the area, according to an Al Jazeera correspondent.
The Israeli navy had said it was in a dialogue with the activists on board in an attempt to dissuade them from continuing on their route.
“In accordance with Israel government directives, and as previously stressed, the Israel Navy will allow the organisers and passengers to re-track at any point, prior to the boarding of Israel Navy soldiers,” the statement said.
The 17-passenger boat had declared an Egyptian port as its destination when it left Greek waters on Sunday, but activists on board later said they were redirecting towards the Gaza Strip and hoped to arrive by Tuesday afternoon.
“This ‘little’ boat symbolises 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 released from the boat said.
“We’re cleaning ourselves up a little bit before arriving. Morale here is like the sky and sea – very good,” wrote French activists on board, adding in English: “Gaza, off we go, stay connected!!!”
‘Message of peace’
The boat was originally part of a 10-ship flotilla which had been due to sail for Gaza at the end of June.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007 when the Palestinian group Hamas seized power in the territory. Israeli says the siege is intended to prevent Hamas from receiving arms and funds.
But Palestinians and their supporters consider the blockade illegal and say it has stunted the economic development of the territory, most of whose 1.5 million residents rely on aid to survive.
On Monday, Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said Israel would prevent any attempt to breach the naval blockade on Gaza.
“If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law, and tries a provocative act – yes, we shall intercept it,” he told reporters in Jerusalem.
“But I assure you we shall try our best to make those on board very comfortable.”
Thomas Sommer-Houdeville, a French activist who spoke to the AFP news agency from on board the boat on Monday evening, said the vessel was only carrying a “symbolic message of peace and hope and love”.
Israel, he said, had no reason to intercept it.
“We hope that they will not, we don’t have a plan but we have a peaceful humanitarian mission. We are a peaceful boat flying a French flag,” he said.
Hamas condemned the seizure with spokesman Ismail Rudwan describing it as “piracy, a war crime and a violation of the principles of human rights”.
Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they stormed a Gaza-bound flotilla in the Mediterranean last year.