BEIRUT, Lebanon – A boat carrying international peace activists and medical supplies to the embattled Gaza Strip was turned back and damaged by the Israeli navy on Tuesday, Israel and organizers of the trip said.
The vessel, called SS Dignity, was greeted by a small cheering crowd as it pulled into the southern Lebanese port of Tyre with clear marks of damage near the prow. Its foiled aid trip came as Israel was waging a major bombardment of Gaza on that has killed more than 360 people since Saturday, aiming to halt Hamas rocket attacks into Israel.
Palmor saids the boat tried to outmaneuver an Israeli navy ship and crashed into it, lightly damaging both vessels. The navy then escorted the boat out into the territorial waters of Cyprus.
But passengers and crew aboard the SS Dignity disputed the Israeli account, saying the Israeli vessel rammed the ship.
"We were prevented from entering Gaza ... by Israeli patrol boats that tracked us for about 30 minutes. They shone their spotlight on us and then all of a sudden they rammed us approximately three times, twice in the front and once in the side," said former U.S. Representative Cynthia McKinney who was aboard the boat.
"Communications from the Israelis indicated that we were involved in terrorist activities ... I presume that's why they rammed our boat," she added.
The boat's British captain, Denis Healey, said the Israeli action came "without any warning, or any provocation." Organizers said the boat was in international waters — 90 miles off the coast of Gaza — when the Israeli navy intercepted it.
The 66-foot (20-meter) yacht Dignity set off from Cyprus on Monday with almost 4 tons of Cypriot-donated medical supplies, including surgical equipment and antibiotics, as well as 16 passengers from the U.S., Cyprus, Britain, Australia, Ireland and elsehwhere, organizers said.
The trip was organized by the Free Gaza group, which has made five deliveries of aid by boat to Gaza since August, defying a blockade imposed by Israel when Hamas won control of the territory in June 2007.