Activists hope to break to break Gaza blockade near coast
RAMALLAH (Palestinian Territories) - A group of activists seeking to break Israel's decade-long blockade of the Gaza Strip were less than 70 nautical miles from the coast on Wednesday without having been intercepted, they said.
The group of around 15 women, including 1976 Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, was travelling aboard the Zaytouna-Oliva sailboat in the Mediterranean toward the Palestinian enclave.
They had expected to be boarded by Israeli authorities at around 100 nautical miles from the coast of the Gaza Strip, run by Islamist movement Hamas.
"The Zaytouna-Oliva has passed the fatal line of 100 miles and everything is going well," Claude Leostic, spokeswoman for the activists, told AFP by telephone.
They however saw lights that seemed to be focused on them at around 4:00 am and assumed it was the Israeli navy, she said.
Israeli media have reported that the authorities planned to intercept it and then escort it to the Israeli port of Ashdod as it did with a similar attempt by activists last year.
Gazans readied to welcome the boat in the afternoon with music at the enclave's port if it manages to get through.
The Zaytouna-Oliva set sail from Barcelona in September.
Maguire, a Northern Ireland activist, is among the women of different nationalities on board.
Dubbed "Women's Boat to Gaza", it is part of the wider Freedom Flotilla Coalition that consists of pro-Palestinian boats that regularly seek to go to Gaza to try to break the blockade.
One such operation turned to tragedy in 2010 when Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists in a raid on a flotilla.
Israel and Palestinian militants in Gaza have fought three wars since 2008.
Israel maintains a blockade to keep material it believes could be used for military purposes from entering the impoverished enclave of 1.9 million people.
UN officials have called for the blockade to be lifted.