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Israel Prepares to Intercept French Yacht as it Sets Sail for Gaza


The French yacht Dignite-Al Karame set sail toward the Gaza Strip Sunday, after other ships in an anti-blockade flotilla were grounded in Greece, but defense establishment sources here said the French yacht will be prevented from reaching shore.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said the Dignite-Al Karame had declared Alexandria, Egypt, as its destination so it could slip out of Greece. You can change destinations legally in the middle of the Mediterranean, she added.

Defense establishment sources said Sunday they expected no violent resistance from the 10 activists and three crew members aboard the Dignite-Al Karame, so its interception should be swift and smooth.

Most of the combatants previously on alert to intercept the second Gaza-bound flotilla ¬ consisting of some 20 vessels and 2,000 activists ¬ have been transferred to other tasks. Greece did not allow the flotilla to take off. However, it made news when two boats were found to have been sabotaged.

The Israel Defense Forces knows that an Al Jazeera crew is on the boat and will make an effort not to provide the Palestinians with pictures of "Israeli aggression," sources said. 
Israeli diplomats said that as almost all the flotilla activists had disbanded, the takeover of the Karame is not expected to draw much media attention.

On Sunday night, 48 hours after leaving the Greek port at Kastellorizo and entering international waters, the French boat was nearing the Egyptian city of Port Said. The idea of entering Egyptian waters was dropped in view of the country's precarious political situation, and the yacht stopped in international waters.

Thomas Sommer-Houdeville, a French national and flotilla spokesperson, said Sunday the boat was carrying a message of peace, hope and solidarity with the people in Gaza. He hoped the Israeli Navy would not intercept the boat and let it complete its civic mission. He believes that the boat must get near as possible to the destination, as it represents the “determination and will” of the people who were on board other boats and all those who have been involved in raising awareness about the blockade on Gaza.

In Jerusalem, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon warned foreign journalists that if the boat is indeed on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law, it will be intercepted. Ayalon also assured that “we will try our best to make all those on board very comfortable."

Israel says the blockade is to prevent arms from reaching the ruling Islamist group Hamas. The boarding of the Mavi Mamara in May 2010 by Israeli commandos met with resistance from those aboard, and nine activists died in the encounter. Relations between Israel and Turkey have been strained over the incident.  

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