The confrontation was the latest in a string of attempts by international activists to test Israel's lockdown of the Gaza Strip via the sea. The challenge focuses pressure on Israel to lift a months-long embargo on Gaza by blocking land and sea routes into the enclave of 1.5 million.
The question of how and when to lift the blockade is a key item of dispute in Egyptian mediated cease-fire talks, which are expected to come to a conclusion in the coming days. As a recent Monitor article explained, border crossings are the crux of any lasting cease-fire.
Bound with 60 tons of aid, human rights activists, and an Al Jazeera reporter, the vessel named "The Brotherhood'' had set out from Tripoli, Lebanon, two days earlier. Israeli police spokesperson Mickey Rosenfeld said that two of the ship's passengers were being taken into custody but could not comment on the fate of the remainder of the crew.
Al Jazeera reported that five Israeli navymen boarded the ship, destroying communications equipment, beating and threatening passages. An Israeli military spokesperson said no live weapons were used in the takeover, but acknowledged that force was used.
Prior to the three-week war between Israel and Hamas, the Jewish state allowed activists to reach Gaza by boat but the clampdown tightened with the outbreak of violence.