Israeli soldiers board the 'MV Rachel Corrie' off the coast of Gaza before rerouting the aid ship to the port of Ashdod

THE Gaza-bound Irish aid ship the MV Rachel Corrie was boarded by Israeli soldiers yesterday morning, in a military operation that avoided the bloodshed seen early last week when troops stormed another aid vessel.

Nobody was injured during the seizure, which took place 30km off the Gaza coast. The ship was commandeered by Israeli forces in an operation which the military said had been conducted without any violence.

Several hours later, the ship was escorted by two small Israeli naval vessels into the port of Ashdod where it docked.

An Israeli military spokes­man said that 19 people on board, including eight crew, were being "transferred to the appropriate authorities".

It is understood the Irish activists were to be transported to the city of Holon, 30 miles from Ashdod, where they were to be questioned at a detention centre.

It was expected that after questioning the activists would be transferred to Tel Aviv airport for deportation. A police spokesman said all 19 people on board the Rachel Corrie would be deported within hours.

However, it was unclear last night whether some of the activists were planning to legally challenge their deportation.

The Israeli defence forces said they encountered no resistance from passengers, including five Irish and six Malaysian pro-Palestine activists, as well as crew members when they stormed the ship.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli government added: "The one main difference between this ship today and the flotilla from last week … is the people of the organisation themselves. Today we have seen true and real peace activists. Last week, we saw an angered mob that had only one goal: to kill [Israeli] soldiers."

The 1,200-tonne ship was rerouted to Ashdod where the authorities said it would be searched for contraband before its humanitarian cargo was transported to Gaza over land.

Having tracked the Rachel Corrie for several hours yesterday, the Israeli army moved in and demanded via radio transmissions that the aid ship divert to Ashdod. The activists ignored the calls and Israeli commandos eventually boarded the vessel and took control.

The crew of the ship also declined an offer that would have allowed some of them to accompany the final stages of the aid delivery.

A counter offer to have the cargo checked at sea under UN supervision was also turned down by the Israelis.

Among those on board were Irish Nobel peace laureate Mairead Maguire and former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday.

The other Irish passengers were Fiona Thompson from Dundalk and Derek and Jenny Graham from Co Mayo.

Reacting to the seizure of the vessel, the Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign (IPSC) said in a statement: "For the second time in less than a week, Israeli forces stormed and hijacked an unarmed aid ship, kidnapping its passengers and forcing the ship toward Ashdod port in southern Israel."

Last Monday, nine people were shot dead when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish Mavi Marmara.