Israeli gunboats opened fire Thursday on a Lebanese aid ship bound for Gaza and assaulted those on board, and according to Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak the navy is escorting it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
"The navy boarded the vessel, stopped it and it is now bringing it to Ashdod," Barak said in broadcast remarks.
Prior to Barack’s comments, Lebanon’s Prime Minister Fuad Siniora called on the international community to press Israel to allow the ship to reach the war-battered Palestinian territory.
Doha-based Al-Jazeera television said earlier one of its correspondents was aboard the vessel and quoted him as saying Israeli sailors had boarded it.
"They (the Israeli navy) are opening fire towards the vessel … there are Israeli soldiers who have actually boarded the vessel," said correspondent Salam Khoder.
“Three of them are pointing their weapons at us … They are beating those on the vessel, they are beating and kicking us," Khoder said in a frantic voice before the line dropped.
Israeli army radio quoted military sources as saying the Lebanese ship arrived off Gaza coming from Cyprus and said the navy had warned the ship it could not continue to Gaza.
The navy then gave the ship permission to carry on south to the Egyptian port of al-Arish "but at the last minute it took a turn to the north and entered the territorial waters of Gaza, a zone barred to all seacraft."
The "Brotherhood Ship," carrying aid from mainly Lebanese and Arab charities for Gaza, was organized by the Palestinian National Committee Against the Siege in cooperation with the U.S.-based Free Gaza Movement.
It was carrying around 60 tons of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip where thousands of people were left homeless after Israel’s 22-day offensive, which ended on Jan. 18 that killed more than 1,300 Palestinians and destroyed thousands of homes.
On board the "Brotherhood Ship" were eight people including the former Greek-Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem, Monsignor Hilarion Capucci, who left Jerusalem in the 1970s after serving time in an Israeli jail for membership of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
There have been several attempts to break the Israeli blockade over the past months by sympathizers of Gaza’s 1.5 million Palestinians. Some boats with peace activists were allowed to dock, others, like a Libyan aid ship, were warned off.
In December, the Israeli navy forced Dignity, carrying international activists with aid for Gaza to divert to Lebanon’s waters.
(Alarabiya.net and Agencies)