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Israel Troops Board, Seize New Gaza Aid Ship

An Israeli handout photo of Israeli forces nearing the orange, red, and green-marked "Rachel Corrie" on June 5, when it was seized while bound with supplies for Gaza.

An Israeli handout photo of Israeli forces nearing the orange, red, and green-marked "Rachel Corrie" on June 5, when it was seized while bound with supplies for Gaza.

Israeli forces have seized a ship carrying aid and activists to blockaded Gaza just days after the deadly raid of another aid ship sparked an irate international response earlier this week.

Israel said the Irish-owned "Rachel Corrie" was seized in international waters after failing to respond to orders to change course to a southern Israeli port.

Israeli Army spokeswoman Lieutenant Colonel Avital Leibovich said activists offered no resistance and the takeover lasted only a few minutes.

The incident came just five days after Israeli forces raided a Turkish aid flotilla bound for blockaded Gaza, killing at least nine activists and dealing a serious blow to relations with neighbor Turkey.

The latest boarding prompted a fresh call from the United Nations for an end to the Israeli blockade, which has come under intense political criticism.

"The [Israeli Defense Force] is not looking for any type of confrontation," Israeli spokeswoman Leibovich said after the "Rachel Corrie" seizure. "It's really up to the people, the passengers on the boat, whether they are truly a humanitarian organization aiming at bringing the goods to Gaza or provocation."

She called it a "compliance boarding" with the consent of those aboard the cargo ship.

The seized craft was taken to Israel's southern port of Ashdod, where it was to be impounded and the cargo inspected.

Cut Off

The "Rachel Corrie" was said to be carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies, and cement to Gaza. The vessel is named after a U.S. activist who was crushed to death by an Israeli bulldozer in 2003 while protesting the demolition of Palestinian homes in Gaza.

Irish and other activists aboard had hoped to break a three-year blockade of Gaza, which Israel says is needed to prevent Islamic militant group Hamas from obtaining weapons but which has plunged the Hamas-led territory's 1.5 million residents into poverty.

Earlier, Irish Foreign Minister Micheal Martin had said the crew was ready to accept inspection of their cargo at sea prior to docking in Gaza. Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Maguire was among the passengers.

In Gaza, Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri condemned the Israeli operation as an act of piracy.

"The Hamas movement considers Israel's interception the Irish ship an act of piracy and terrorism at sea," Abu Zuhri said. "We confirm that this crime by Israel will not stop the international solidarity movement from sending more ships and flotilla to Gaza. The only way to stop the arrival of these ships is to end the blockade of Gaza. But as long as there is an incursion on Gaza, the ships will continue flowing into the Strip."

Pressure On Israel

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said amid news of the latest boarding that Israel's Gaza blockade "is illegal and must be lifted." That echoed an earlier appeal from UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an immediate end to the cordoning.

"International humanitarian law prohibits starvation of civilians as a method of warfare is also prohibited to impose collective punishment on civilians," Pillay said.

Pillay, who for four years served as an ICC judge, suggested Israel could face prosecution for the deadly May 31 raid.

Key ally Washington has called for an easing of the Gaza blockade.

"We are working urgently with Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and other international partners to develop new procedures for delivering more goods and assistance to Gaza," a spokesman for the White House National Security Council said in a statement. "The current arrangements are unsustainable and must be changed. For now, we call on all parties to join us in encouraging responsible decisions by all sides to avoid any unnecessary confrontations."

Turkey, once Israel's main Muslim ally but increasingly harsh since the May 31 raid, has slammed Israel over those deaths. Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan called the incident a "bloody massacre" and accused Israel of violating the Biblical commandment "Thou shalt not kill."

Deputy Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told parliament this week that "new cooperation will not start and relations with Israel will be reduced."

"The Guardian" newspaper has reported that autopsy results of the nine activists killed on May 31 showed they had been shot a total of 30 times, many at close range.

One of the activists, a U.S. citizen of Turkish descent, was reportedly shot five times at close range in the face, the back of the head, twice in the leg and once in the back.

The other eight slain activists were all Turkish citizens. The same paper quoted a witness to the first raid, Ismail Patel, chairman of Leicester-based pro-Palestinian group Friends of al-Aqsa, as saying that six activists were still missing.

Activists insist their intentions are pure in challenging the Israeli gauntlet to improve the lives of beleaguered Palestinians. But suspicions of less benign motives have been fed by the role of an Istanbul-based charity, the Human Rights and Freedom Group (IHH), that Israel accuses of supporting Hamas and having links to Al-Qaeda.

compiled from agency and television reports