Israeli naval commandos board Gaza-bound ship

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By AMY TEIBEL | Associated Press | July 18

JERUSALEM (AP) — The Israeli military says commandos have boarded a French ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

They reported no resistance.

The military has said it will stop any attempt to break the sea blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed four years ago in what it says is a measure to prevent arms smuggling.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

JERUSALEM (AP) – The Israeli navy surrounded a French ship attempting to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip and threatened to board the vessel if it didn’t change course.

Israel Radio broadcast the military’s radio message to the ship, which notified activists on board that commandos would carry out a “very calm boarding” of the vessel. There appeared to be no radio response from the activists, who could not be contacted by phone.

Minutes later, the military said it had not yet boarded the ship.

The military has said it will stop any attempt to break the sea blockade of Gaza, which Israel has imposed for the past four years in what it says is a measure to prevent arms smuggling.

Last year, Israeli naval commandos clashed with knife and club-wielding activists on a Turkish ship trying to reach Gaza, killing nine Turkish activists. Both sides have said they acted in self defense.

The deadly clash forced Israel to ease a land blockade of Gaza, but the naval embargo remains intact on the ground.

The vessel, the Dignity al-Karama, is the only ship remaining from a larger protest flotilla that had hoped to sail weeks ago but was blocked by Greek authorities.

Sixteen activists and journalists are aboard the French-based ship. They have said their mission is meant to make a “political statement” against the Israeli blockade.

A France-based spokesman for a group called “A French Boat for Gaza,” Maxime Guimberteau, said he was in contact with activists aboard the ship earlier Tuesday and they told him that four Israeli navy ships had surrounded the ship.

He said the vessel was about 40 miles (65 kilometers) off Gaza in international waters in the Mediterranean and that his conversation with the boat was cut off.

Israel imposed the embargo in 2007 after Hamas militants seized control of Gaza. It says the measure is needed to prevent weapons from reaching Hamas, but critics say the blockade has failed to weaken the militant group and instead has hurt the territory’s economy, collectively punishing its 1.6 million people.

In its warning, the navy notified the ship that any supplies it might have on board could be transferred legally to Gaza through an Israeli port and then across Israeli-controlled land crossings.

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AP correspondent Angela Charlton contributed from Paris.

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