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NGO’s bid to help Gazans scuttled

December 31, 2008

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TYRE (Lebanon), Dec 30: An Israeli naval vessel collided on Tuesday with a boat carrying activists and medical supplies that was trying to break the blockade of Gaza, forcing it to head to port in Lebanon.

Passengers on board the 20-metre Dignity said the Israeli patrol boat rammed their vessel, but Israel insisted the two boats collided as the Israeli navy was trying to contact its captain.

“Dignity has entered Lebanese territorial waters and will arrive in Tyre soon,” an official in the southern port town said.

No one was injured in the collision between the patrol boat and Dignity operated by the Free Gaza Movement which was trying to take three tons of medical supplies into Gaza on day four of Israeli air strikes on the Palestinian territory.

Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said the naval vessel tried to contact the aid boat by radio for identification and to inform it that it could not enter Gaza.

“After the boat did not answer the radio, it sharply veered and the two vessels collided, causing only light damage,” Palmor said.

The Israeli spokesman accused the international activists of “seeking provocation more than ever”.

The Free Gaza Movement, which has run the blockade six times since August to take humanitarian supplies into Gaza, said the vessel could still sail after the ramming.

Paul Larudee, one of the group’s founders, said the Dignity had been “surrounded” in international waters about 70 kilometres off the Israeli coast and 135 kilometres from Gaza.

“It was surrounded by 11 Israeli naval vessels,” he said.

“They ordered the boat to stop, and we didn’t. They began firing over our boat and into the waters next to the boat. When the boat wouldn’t turn back, one of the naval vessels rammed the boat, but not enough to disable the boat.”

On its website, the Free Gaza Movement said the Dignity was on a “mission of mercy” carrying three tonnes of medical supplies “donated by the people of Cyprus”, from where it set off on Monday.

President Michel Sleiman said the boat was welcome to dock in any Lebanese port.—AFP