The IDF has confirmed that an Israel Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the cargo boat named "Tali" on Thursday morning. The ship, bearing the flag of Togo, was illegally attempting to enter Gaza.
Two Israeli helicopters were reported in the area at the time of the interception, which took place approximately 32 kilometers (20 miles) from the Gaza coast.
Among those on board were a reporter for the Arabic-language Al-Jazeera network, human rights activists, and former Greek Catholic archbishop of Jerusalem, Monsignor Hilarion Capucci.
Capucci, who in the 70s was accused of arms trafficking for the Palestine Liberation Army, was convicted in 1974 by an Israeli court of using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to terrorists. An Israeli court sentenced him to 12 years in prison, but he was released after three years when the Vatican intervened.
The cargo boat, dubbed The Brotherhood, sailed from the Tripoli port in Lebanon a few days ago, docked in Cyprus, then continued to Gaza. While at sea, the cargo boat was contacted by Israeli authorities, who clarified that it would not be permitted to enter Gazan coastal waters because of security risks in the area and the current naval blockade.
The Navy initiated direct contact with the boat on Wednesday morning. In response, the boat's crew attempted to mislead the IDF by stating its intention to change the boat's destination to the port in El-Arish, Egypt.
However, during the pre-dawn hours of Thursday, the cargo ship changed its bearing, and began heading towards Gaza despite the claims made by the boat crew last evening.
Disregarding all warnings, the cargo boat entered Gazan coastal waters. The actions of the boat crew raised suspicion. The IDF believes that illegal ships could threaten security, or be used for smuggling weaponry into Gaza.
As a result of the actions taken by the boat crew, an Israel Navy force intercepted, boarded, and took control of the cargo boat, directing it towards Ashdod.
According to Al-Jazeera’s reporter aboard the ship, the navy first opened fire, then five Israeli troops boarded the boat, beating and threatening the passengers.
“They are pointing guns against us – they are kicking us. They are threatening our lives,” the reporter screamed until communications with the ship broke off.
The IDF, however, denies that gunshots were fired on board during the capture of the cargo boat.
Lebanon’s Acting President Fouad Siniora condemned the IDF interception of the boat, stating, “It is no surprise for Israel to perpetrate such an action as it has been accustomed to ignore all international resolutions and values.”
The boat crew was taken for questioning by the Israeli Police. The ship was inspected and no weaponry was found.
All humanitarian goods found on the boat will be transferred to Gaza. The crew will be transferred to Lebanon via the Rosh HaNikra border passage.
The question remains why the ship laden with humanitarian aid did not employ conventional and legal measures to bring the aid to Gaza civilians. The IDF Spokesperson Unit said in a statement that any organization or country that wishes to transfer humanitarian aid to Gaza may do so via the established crossings between Israel and Gaza with prior coordination.
Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu contributed to this story.