Belfast protest against Israel Rachel Corrie seizure

Image caption,
About 200 hundred people held a protest at Belfast City Hall

About 200 people have taken part in a protest in Belfast against the Israeli seizure of an Irish aid ship trying to break the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The protest began at the City Hall at 1600 BST.

The Israeli military says soldiers boarded the Rachel Corrie from the sea and did not meet any resistance.

The incident comes five days after nine people were killed in clashes when troops boarded a Turkish aid ship, prompting international criticism.

The ship has been taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israel says it will question those on board, including five Irish nationals, at the port and transfer the aid to the Gaza Strip by land after checking the cargo for banned items.

The Irish nationals include the Nobel peace prize winner Mairead Corrigan Maguire.

The Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness described the Israeli intervention as a "raid" and said it was a "completely unacceptable and unjustified use of force".

"The Rachel Corrie should have been allowed to proceed to Gaza without Israeli aggression," he said.

"This is an attack on an Irish flagged vessel and it demands a strong response by the Irish government."

Mary Hughes, one of the founders of the Free Gaza movement, which has been organising aid shipments, condemned Israel's actions.

She added: "We are totally outraged that they have once again gone into international waters and violently boarded the boat, and force people to go to Israel when all we wanted was to be left to get to Gaza."

'Full compliance'

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hailed the peaceful outcome to the operation.

"We saw today the difference between a ship of peace activists, with whom we don't agree but respect their right to a different opinion from ours, and between a ship of hate organised by violent Turkish terror extremists," Mr Netanyahu's office quoted him as saying, according to AFP news agency.

Image caption,
The Rachel Corrie was seized by Israeli forces on Saturday

The Rachel Corrie is named after a US college student who was crushed to death by an Israeli army bulldozer as she protested over house demolitions in Gaza in 2003.

Israel has blockaded Gaza since 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement seized control of the territory.

The 1,200 tonne cargo ship was boarded about 16 nautical miles (30km) off the Israeli coast.

The Rachel Corrie is carrying hundreds of tonnes of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement. Construction materials are banned from entering Gaza by Israel, which says they could be used for military purposes by Hamas.

Israel came under fierce criticism after its troops shot dead nine people during a violent confrontation with those on board the Turkish Mavi Marmara in the early hours of Monday

Israel says its commandos were attacked with weapons, including knives, and opened fire in self-defence. Activists on the ship say troops shot at them without provocation.

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