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Aid ship seized on its way to Gaza

THE Israeli navy yesterday intercepted a ship delivering 60 tons of supplies from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip and said it was towing the vessel into an Israeli port.

The ship set sail from the Lebanese port of Tripoli on Tuesday in a bid to defy Israel's blockade of Gaza. Reporters from Arab TV stations Al-Jadeed and Al-Jazeera who were on the vessel said the Israelis fired at the ship before boarding it and beat some of those on board.

Gunfire could be heard in the background of the telephoned reports aired by their stations.

The organizers, an ad hoc group of Lebanese political and human rights activists, said 18 people were on board and the cargo comprised medicine, food, toys and basic humanitarian supplies such as mattresses and blankets.

Among the passengers was 86-year-old Greek Catholic priest Hillarion Capucci, who while serving as an archbishop in Jerusalem was convicted in 1974 by an Israeli court for using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to Palestinians.

The Syrian-born Capucci was jailed but released three years later at the intervention of the Vatican and deported.

The voyage organizers said four journalists, a Muslim cleric and a lawyer - all Lebanese citizens - as well as a Palestinian cleric and a British activist were on board.

The Free Gaza Movement, which did not organize the Lebanese voyage but has successfully sent several boatloads of activists to Gaza in the past, named the Briton as Theresa McDermott of Edinburgh, one of its volunteers.

The Israeli military said those on board would be handed to Israeli immigration authorities and the aid would be taken to Gaza by land.

"Since they are here illegally, they will be sent to an immigration police facility where they will be questioned," police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said. "After that, depending on what is decided, they will likely be deported."

Israel has kept Gaza's cargo crossings largely closed since Hamas gained control of the coastal strip in June 2007.


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