Reposted from Morning Star
ISRAEL’S navy attacked and seized international aid ship the Tali that was heading for the besieged Gaza Strip on Thursday.

Al-Jadeed and al-Jazeera journalists who were aboard the Tali said that the Israelis had fired at the ship before boarding it and beating those on board.

Gunfire could be heard in the background of the telephoned reports aired by the two stations.

The Tali was attempting to deliver 60 tons of desperately needed aid to the devastated Palestinian territory. The Israeli navy claimed that no gunshots had been fired at the ship while it had boarded and seized the vessel. The navy said that it was towing the ship, which set sail on Tuesday from Lebanon, into an Israeli port.

Lebanon’s prime minister condemned the ‘blatant attack’ and one of the organisers of the voyage called it a kidnapping.

Israel claimed that the ship had tried to slip past its navy after agreeing to sail to Egypt instead.

The Israeli military said that those on board the ship would be handed over to Israeli immigration authorities and that the aid would be transferred to Gaza by land.

The coalition of Lebanese political and human rights activists who organised the mercy mission said that 18 people were on board. The cargo was comprised of medicine, food, toys and basic humanitarian supplies such as mattresses and blankets.

Among the passengers was Greek Catholic priest Hilarion Capucci, who, while serving as an archbishop in Jerusalem in 1974, was convicted by an Israeli court for using his diplomatic status to smuggle arms to Palestinian liberation fighters. He was later released from jail at the intervention of the Vatican and deported.

The Free Gaza Movement, which did not organise the Lebanese voyage but which has successfully sent several boatloads of activists to Gaza in the past, said that one of its British volunteers, Theresa McDermott from Edinburgh, was also on board the Tali.

Israel has imposed a suffocating blockade of Gaza since June 2007, when the elected Hamas government defeated an attempted coup by security forces loyal to the opposition party Fatah.

The siege led to shortages of food, medicine, fuel and electricity in Gaza.

Israel claims that smuggling tunnels between Gaza and neighbouring Egypt are being used to bring in weapons, but the majority of such traffic is food, fuel and medicine. Closing the tunnels was a condition of Israel’s temporary halt to its 22-day onslaught on Gaza, which killed over 1,300 people.