By Frank James

Members of the Israel Defense Forces stopped and boarded an aid ship with Irish activists as it approached the Gaza Strip Saturday, taking control of the vessel without incident only days after nine activists were killed during a similar raid.

After boarding the ship, the Rachel Corrie, named for an American peace activist killed by the IDF in 2003 during a Gaza protest, Israeli commandos steered it into the Israeli port of Ashdod, according to news reports.

The ship was attempting to run the Israeli-blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Israel has maintained the blockade since 2007, saying it was necessary to keep weapons that would be used against Israeli citizens out of Hamas' hands.

International critics, however, have condemned Israel for the blockade, saying it is a form of collective punishment against Palestinians for electing Hamas, an Islamist group which continues to deny that Israel has a right to exist, to govern Gaza.

That condemnation intensified greatly after Israeli commandos killed nine activists on a Turkish-flagged ship Monday after a confrontation broke out though details are in dispute.

On Saturday, for instance, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, called the blockade illegal under international humanitarian law and demanded that it be lifted, according to the Associated Press.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported the following on the boarding of the Rachel Corrie:

An IDF spokesman said Saturday that Israeli special forces soldiers used boats to board the ship, and were not air-dropped as in the nighttime takeover of the Mavi Marmara on Monday.
The spokesman said the soldiers had boarded after receiving full consent from the Free Gaza activists on the ship. The IDF said earlier that the "Rachel Corrie" had ignored an invitation to unload its cargo at an Israeli port and chose to continue its trip toward Gaza.
According to the army, the organizers "chose to ignore the invitation to dock at the Ashdod port where the cargo could be unloaded and transferred to the Gaza Strip upon inspection."
The Cyprus-based Free Gaza group used micro-blogging website Twitter to announce that troops from three three Israeli naval boats, which had been tailing the ship, had boarded peacefully at 5:50 A.M. Israel time, with no struggle or injuries.
The activists' latest attempt to crack the blockade was seen as a test of Israel's resolve in the face of international conmdenation over the takeover of the Mavi Marmara.

categories: Foreign News

9:29 - June 5, 2010