TYRE, Lebanon, (Reuters) – A small boat carrying international activists with aid for Gaza docked in the southern Lebanese port city of Tyre on Tuesday after a clash with an Israeli naval ship forced it to divert to Lebanon.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman confirmed there had been “physical contact” between its vessel and the 60-foot cabin cruiser “Dignity”, which sailed from Cyprus late on Monday.
Activists from the “Free Gaza” movement told Reuters their boat, carrying 3 1/2 tonnes of medical aid and 16 people, was rammed and shot at in international waters 70-80 miles off Gaza by an Israeli naval vessel. There were no casualties.
Yigal Palmor, the Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, said the aid boat had failed to respond to radio contact. He denied there had been any shooting.
Israel declared the Gaza coastal territory a closed military zone after it launched air attacks on Hamas targets on Saturday. Nearly 350 Palestinians have been killed in the attacks.
The Dignity docked in Tyre escorted by a Lebanese navy vessel and several fishing boats waving Lebanese and Shi’ite party flags. Scores of Palestinians and Lebanese greeted the boat at the port. Activists said they were looking for another boat to sail to Gaza from Tyre with supplies from the Dignity.
The Dignity had a gaping hole in its superstructure and an activist said sea water had leaked in after the collision.
“It was like ramming a Mini (car) with a truck,” Eleni Theocharous, a Cypriot lawmaker on board the boat, told Reuters.
Cyprus state radio said the Cypriot government would seek explanations from Israel over the incident. The vessel was carrying medical aid donated by Cyprus and there were at least three Cypriots on board, including the parliamentarian.
Free Gaza is a U.S.-based organisation which has sent regular shuttles of aid to Gaza from Cyprus since August. “We are determined to go to Gaza and we are looking for another boat,” said activist Derek Graham. “The Cypriot government gave us this medicine to deliver, and we will deliver it.”