The Israeli military threatened to board the Rachel Corrie aid ship today after it ignored orders to change tack and steamed on towards Gaza risking a potentially explosive confrontation.
A military spokesman said the ship had ignored three calls to dock in the southern Israeli port of Ashdod and had been warned that the vessel would be boarded by naval forces if it did not change course. "Our soldiers will board you if you refuse to change course... We are ready to use force to defend ourselves," spokeswoman Avital Leibovitz told the BBC, quoting the message relayed to the vessel.
The latest confrontation comes just five days after Israeli naval commandos boarded another aid ship in a deadly raid which left nine activists dead, most of them Turkish. A Twitter feed from the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) said the boat was 28 nautical miles from the coast. "The Rachel Corrie is now 28 miles from shore, have rejected 3 requests from IDF navy to dock @ Ashdod Port," it said.
International waters begin some 20 nautical miles off the coast, so the feed indicated the ship was outside Israeli or Gazan waters without saying exactly where. "We indicated several times to the organisers aboard the ship that they should head to the port of Ashdod as there is a blockade in force on the Gaza Strip, but they ignored our appeals and are continuing to head towards Gaza," a military spokeswoman said earlier.
Activists on board the ship had previously indicated they would not heed Israeli calls to change course, and would continue to head for their destination -- although they were prepared to let their cargo be inspected. Earlier, a spokesman for the Gaza-based welcoming committee told AFP the Rachel Corrie had been intercepted and all communications with the ship cut. "Several Israeli boats surrounded them between 30 and 35 miles off Gaza and prevented them from reaching Gaza," Amjad al-Shawa said after speaking by telephone with passengers on the boat.
In a last communique issued at around 5:38 am (0238 GMT), activist Jenny Graham, who is on board the Rachel Corrie, told organisers the vessel was being approached by two Israeli warships. Graham said equipment on board had been "jammed by the Israeli navy, and that they expected their satellite phone to be jammed soon as well," the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign said, adding that it was not able to determine the ship's location when it was intercepted.
Israel had warned it would stop the Rachel Corrie -- a 1,200-tonne cargo ship named after a US activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home. The vessel had been due to join a flotilla of ships which tried to run the blockade earlier this week but was held up for technical reasons. Israeli naval commandos raided the flotilla before dawn on Monday in a bungled operation which left nine foreign activists dead, most of them Turkish, and scores wounded, among them seven Israeli soldiers.