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Israel intercepts Gaza-bound boat

Israeli naval vessels have stopped a pro-Palestinian boat attempting to reach Gaza in defiance of Israel's blockade of the territory, military officials said.

The ships diverted the Estelle to the nearby port of Ashdod after passengers refused to steer the vessel off its course, the military said in a statement. There were some 30 passengers on board, who did not offer any resistance.

"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.

Victoria Strand, a spokeswoman for Ship to Gaza in Sweden, which sent the Estelle, said that armed, masked soldiers boarded the boat and cut their communications when they were some 30 nautical miles from Gaza. She said activists on board told her that some six naval boats surrounded their vessel.

"This is a demonstration of ruthlessness," Ms Strand said.

The Swedish-owned, Finnish-flagged Estelle left Naples, Italy, on October 7 with about 30 people from eight countries, carrying items such as cement, basketballs and musical instruments.

They were trying to challenge Israel's blockade, imposed since the militant group Hamas seized the coastal territory in 2007.

The ship was the latest in a series of activist-manned boats challenging Israel's blockade on Gaza. Activists have sent a series of blockade-defying vessels to Gaza, most of which have been similarly diverted to Ashdod.

In 2010, an Israeli naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla left nine Turkish activists on board dead, sparking international condemnation that forced Israel to ease much of its blockade, although it maintains restrictions on key exports and imports of raw materials.

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