JERUSALEM: Israeli naval vessels intercepted two protest boats on their way to Gaza to try to break Israel's blockade Friday afternoon, the Israeli military and Palestinian activists said.
In Gaza, activist Amjad Shawwa told The Associated Press that activists aboard the boats said they were surrounded by Israeli naval vessels. Then contact with the activists was lost when their satellite phones stopped working. It was not clear if Israel was jamming them.
The Israeli military issued a short video clip showing a naval official calling on the ships to turn around. "The Gaza area and coastal region are closed to maritime traffic as part of a blockade imposed for security purposes," the unnamed officer said.
"Your attempt to enter the Gaza Strip by sea is a violation of international law. We remind you that humanitarian supplies can be delivered to the Gaza Strip by land, and you are welcome to enter (Israel's) Ashdod port and deliver supplies through land crossings."
It was not known if the ships were changing course.
Israel's navy has intercepted similar protest ships in the past, towing them to an Israeli port and detaining participants. Israel says its naval blockade of Gaza is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching militant groups like Hamas, the Iran-backed group that rules the territory. Critics call the blockade collective punishment of Gaza's residents.
Last year, nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when they resisted an Israeli operation to halt a similar flotilla. Each side blamed the other for the violence.
The incident sparked an international outcry and forced Israel to ease its land blockade on Gaza, which was imposed in 2006 and tightened, with Egyptian cooperation, after Hamas seized control of the territory the following year.
Militants in Gaza have fired thousands of rockets into Israel in the past decade, and now have much of southern Israel in range.
Speaking after prayers at a Gaza City mosque, Ismail Haniyeh, the Hamas prime minister, addressed the passengers aboard the boats, saying, "Your message has been delivered whether you make it or not."
"The siege is unjust and must end," Haniyeh said.