Ashdod, Israel:  A French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists which was prevented from reaching Gaza by the Israeli navy was escorted into Ashdod port yesterday, an AFP correspondent said.

The MV Dignite/Al Karama entered the port flanked by three small Israeli naval vessels after being intercepted in international waters as it tried to reach Gaza in defiance of Israel's naval blockade on the territory.

“The boarding [of the yacht] is an act of violence and an illegal act,” the Paris-based organisers said in a statement, describing it as “a new act of piracy against harmless people”.

The Israeli military said the 16 people on board, three of whom are journalists, would be questioned by Israel police and then transferred to the interior ministry and the immigration authorities, with the expectation they would be deported.

One of the passengers is Amira Hass, a veteran Israeli columnist who covers Palestinian affairs for the Haaretz newspaper. The other two journalists work for Al Jazeera television.

Erdogan keen

In Ankara, Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he was considering visiting Gaza, a move likely to anger Israel amid diplomatic efforts to overcome already strained bilateral ties.

“If the conditions allow, I’m thinking of visiting Gaza,” Erdogan said. “The foreign ministry will be working on it. I wish to make such a visit, depending on the outcome.”
He said he would like to cross to the Palestinian enclave following a planned visit to Egypt, the date of which has not yet been determined.

The two one-time allies are already in the grips of a severe crisis since May last year when Israeli troops killed nine Turkish activists aboard an aid ship that tried to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza.

Israel has slammed previous contacts between Turkey and Hamas, which took control of Gaza in 2007 after routing Fatah loyalists. But Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government insists that peace cannot be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Hamas is excluded from the process.