Israeli Navy commandos escorted the Gaza-bound flotilla ship Dignite al Karama into the Ashdod Port Tuesday where police forces were deployed in the case of possible riots.
Navy senior official Brigadier-General Rani Ben Yehuda said that the takeover was restrained and that no weapons or humanitarian equipment were found on the ship.
“The takeover was performed after repeated warnings. After those were ignored the force approached the ship and boarded it while clearing the passengers. No one was hurt and no damage was caused to the vessel,” Ben Yehuda said.
The Navy official estimated that the flotilla was not over but on the verge of dying down. “There are still ships aiming to arrive. It’s an ongoing campaign. ”
The Population, Immigration and Borders Authority said that the foreign activists onboard the ship are effectively entering Israel illegally. They will face a hearing, deportation and automatic removal from the country for a period of 10 years.
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According to the Authority, after the hearing the activists will face two options: Return directly back to their countries of origin or wait for 72 hours at a detention center for a judge to meet with them.
Around 10:30 am, Israel Navy ships intercepted the French vessel, hailed it and informed it that is was nearing the Gaza blockade lines and must head to Ashdod Port or Egypt.
State officials said that an Al Jazeera TV crew onboard the ship will not be deported from Israel. In the past, Israel warned that all media personnel onboard flotilla vessels will be deported, but the decision was reversed.
The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit said that the takeover took place some 65 kilometres off the Gaza coast and that the Navy force followed procedure and took all necessary measures to ensure the safety of the soldiers and passengers. The activists were also offered food and drink after the takeover, the Spokesperson’s Unit said.
The French Foreign Ministry said in response that Israel had informed it of the takeover. Eleven of the ship’s 16 passengers are French citizens.
A statement of behalf of the ministry said that France had advised its citizens not to take part in the flotilla due to personal security risks and noted that such flotillas can only increase tensions in the region.
It was also noted that Paris expects Israel to act responsibly and proportionately and allow the citizens’ swift return to France.