Israeli navy commandos boarded two ships heading toward Gaza on Friday after the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) informed the activists that they were heading toward a blockaded area.
The Canadian and Irish ships were part of a flotilla that left Turkey Wednesday to "challenge Israel's illegal blockade" of the Gaza Strip.
The boats were informed via radio Friday that they could turn around or head to a port in Egypt because they would be breaking a maritime security blockade in accordance with international law. "Goods can be unloaded at the Ashdod port and will be transferred into the Gaza Strip via the legal land crossings," and IDF spokesman said.
After activists refused to cooperate, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Grantz ordered the navy to board the vessels. "The Israel Navy soldiers operated as planned, and took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels as well as themselves," the IDF said in a statement Friday.
The vessels are being led to the Ashdod port. There, the passengers will be placed in the custody of Israeli Police and immigration authorities.
In a September report, the United Nations supported Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip, imposed to block arms shipments to the Hamas government there, as legal. "The naval blockade was imposed as a legitimate security measure in order to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea and its implementation complied with the requirements of international law," the UN report said.
On Thursday, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said "we are renewing our warning to U.S. citizens not involve themselves in this activity." She added that American citizens who support Hamas materially or with other resources could face civil and criminal penalties.
Despite repeated warnings from the United States against flotillas to Gaza this year, Huwaida Arraf of the Free Gaza Movement said Thursday that the group plans to continue sending ships to the region. "The name Freedom Waves indicates that we will keep coming, wave after wave, by air, sea, and land, to challenge Israel's illegal policies towards Gaza and all of Palestine. Our movement will not stop or be stopped until Palestine is free," Arraf said from Ramallah.