, JERUSALEM, Jun 5 – Israeli troops have threatened to board a Gaza-bound aid ship if it does not reroute to a port in southern Israel, a military spokeswoman said, after the vessel ignored calls to change course.
Speaking to the BBC, spokeswoman Avital Leibowitz said the Rachel Corrie had been warned it would be boarded by Israeli forces if it did not change course and head for Ashdod port.
"Our soldiers will board you if you refuse to change course… We are ready to use force to defend ourselves," she said, quoting the message relayed to the vessel, in remarks which were also broadcast on Israel public radio.
The warning was issued as the aid-laden ship ignored calls to head for Ashdod and pressed on towards Gaza, risking a potentially-explosive confrontation with the Israeli navy.
"We indicated several times to the organisers aboard the ship that they should head to the port of Ashdod as there is a blockade in force on the Gaza Strip, but they ignored our appeals and are continuing to head towards Gaza," a military spokeswoman said earlier.
Activists on board the ship had previously indicated they would not heed Israeli calls to change course, and would continue to head for their destination – although they were prepared to let their cargo be inspected.
Earlier, a spokesman for the Gaza-based welcoming committee told AFP the Rachel Corrie had been intercepted and all communications with the ship cut.
"Several Israeli boats surrounded them between 30 and 35 miles off Gaza and prevented them from reaching Gaza," Amjad al-Shawa said after speaking by telephone with passengers on the boat.
In a last communique issued at around 5:38 am (0238 GMT), activist Jenny Graham, who is on board the Rachel Corrie, told organisers the vessel was being approached by two Israeli warships.
Graham said equipment on board had been "jammed by the Israeli navy, and that they expected their satellite phone to be jammed soon as well," the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign said, adding that it was not able to determine the ship\’s location when it was intercepted.
Israel had warned it would stop the Rachel Corrie – a 1,200-tonne cargo ship named after a US activist killed in 2003 as she tried to prevent an Israeli bulldozer from razing a Palestinian home.
The vessel had been due to join a flotilla of ships which tried to run the blockade earlier this week but was held up for technical reasons.
Israeli naval commandos raided the flotilla before dawn on Monday in a bungled operation which left nine foreign activists dead, most of them Turkish, and scores wounded, among them seven Israeli soldiers.