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Israel seizes pro-Palestinian activist ship off Gaza

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The SV Estelle welcomes on board Greek pro-Palestinian activist Vassilis Pissias and a Greek left coalition Syriza party deputy on Tuesday bringing water supplies and compact lifeboats during an operation off the southern Greek island of Gavdos, south of Crete. Israeli naval vessels thwarted the advance of the boat on Saturday.

JERUSALEM - The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship in the Mediterranean sea on Saturday to prevent it breaching its blockade of the Hamas-governed Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said. 

The ships diverted the Estelle, a three-mast schooner, to the nearby port of Ashdod after passengers refused to steer the vessel off its course, the military said in a statement. 

"A short while ago, Israeli naval soldiers boarded the Estelle en route to the Gaza Strip attempting to break the maritime security blockade," the statement said. 

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement, and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said earlier on Saturday. 

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Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment. 

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighboring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory. 

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Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and in one May 2010 incident its marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their ship. 

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found that Israel's Gaza blockade was legal but faulted the navy for excessive force. 

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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