Israeli commandos have seized the crew of a ship carrying aid to Gaza and forced the vessel to sail to an Israeli port.
The Israeli military said that it had boarded The Spirit of Humanity as it tried to break Tel Aviv's siege of the territory last night. The 21 solidarity activists aboard had ignored a radio message warning that they would not be allowed to enter Gazan waters.
The activists, including Nobel laureate Mairead Maguire, former US Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and a news crew from Al Jazeera TV, were handed over to immigration officials in Ashdod.
Several Britons were among those detained, including British National Union of Journalists member Fathi Jaouadi.
The Israeli government stated that the three tons of humanitarian cargo the activists had aimed to deliver to Gaza would be sent to the territory after a security check.
The ship, flying a Greek flag, was sailing in international waters when it was boarded, but no Greek citizens were aboard.
Athens has issued a statement saying that it has demanded the release of the ship, crew and passengers by the Israeli authorities.
But Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor claimed: 'Nobody wants to keep them here - they will be released as soon as they are checked.'
The US-based Free Gaza Movement (FGM), which organised the humanitarian mission, thanked 'the tens of thousands of people around the world who have mobilised to demand the immediate and unconditional release of our 21 imprisoned friends.'
And the FGM emphasised that the abduction of the activists 'is not the story.'
'The 21 passengers aboard the Spirit of Humanity have been illegally incarcerated for their solidarity work with Palestine -11,000 other members of our common human family are already imprisoned simply for being Palestinian,' the organisation asserted.
And it said that the siege of Gaza is only strengthened 'when we pay more attention to the injustice done to 21 international solidarity workers than we do to the much greater injustices already being committed against millions of Palestinians.'
The FGM has appealed for 'all the good people around the world who have worked so hard to secure the release of our friends' to adopt a Palestinian prisoner.
'We ask you to learn about the crisis and take on the cause of an individual prisoner as your own,' it said.