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Israeli commandos seize ship near Gaza

JERUSALEM -- Israeli naval commandos seized control of a French ship attempting to break Israel's sea blockade of the Gaza Strip Tuesday and towed it into port, reporting no resistance during the takeover in international waters.

The takeover was the latest in a series of run-ins on the high seas between the Israeli navy and pro-Palestinian activists trying to breach the blockade. In the most contentious takeover, nine Turkish activists were killed in a clash with Israeli commandos last year.

Yesterday's operation at sea was far more subdued than the deadly clash last year. The navy intercepted the Dignity al-Karama some 40 miles off the coast and boarded the ship without incident after the crew ignored calls to change course.

"The takeover was orderly and done with restraint," the navy's deputy commander, Brig. Gen. Rani Ben-Yehudah, told reporters at the southern Israeli port of Ashdod. "Nobody was hurt and the ship wasn't damaged."

The military had warned it would stop any attempt to break the sea blockade of Gaza, which Israel imposed four years ago in what it says is a measure to prevent arms smuggling to Gaza's ruling Hamas militant group.

The boat was not carrying aid supplies.

The white boat was taken to the port in Ashdod, where foreign activists were to be questioned and then deported "to their countries of origin as soon as possible," said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Passengers included activists from France, Sweden, Canada and Greece. There were also three journalists, including an Israeli, and several crew members.

In Paris, a spokeswoman for the organizers said the group had no contact with the ship's passengers. "We have reasserted our request for the French authorities to be very firm in order to protect and repatriate as soon as possible our fellow citizens but also all the members of the Flotilla," said Julien Rivoire, a spokesman for a French boat for Gaza.

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