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Israel's Gaza blockade challenged by seaborne activists

Passengers include journalists and at least one lawmaker, with about 40 activists from 15 countries
Freedom, one of three-boat flotilla that left Sicily on 21 July (screengrab)

An international flotilla seeking to challenge Israel's maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip is nearing its destination, although its exact location is unknown, supporters said on Saturday.

A three-vessel "Freedom Flotilla" left Palermo, Sicily, on 21 July and the first of them, the Awda (Return in Arabic), may arrive off the Gaza shore as early as Sunday, Pierre Stambul, co-president of the French Jewish Union for Peace, said in an e-mail to AFP.

Stambul, who is not aboard, said that about 40 activists from 15 countries, including two from France, were taking part.  

As in previous attempts to breach the blockade, the ships were expected to be stopped at sea by the Israeli navy and taken to an Israeli port.

A video report posted online on Saturday from onboard one of the ships, by Richard Sudan of Iran's Press TV UK, said that one of the smaller vessels had dropped out with an unspecified "problem".

"So two boats are now currently making their way toward the Gaza Strip," he said. 

Passengers, he said, include journalists, activists and at least one lawmaker.

"There's a Jordanian MP on the other boast, the Awda, and various activists from across Europe," he said, adding that the blockade challenge "is a gesture of solidarity to the Palestinians".

"There is also some medical aid on board, although the amount of medical aid is merely a gesture," he said. "We're talking just a few boxes."

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In 2010, Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they raided a six-ship flotilla trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of the blockade. Another activist died years later.

The botched raid angered Turkey and saw it cut off ties with Israel until 2016.

Other attempts to run the Israeli blockade included a 2016 women's boat with 13 passengers including Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland.

Their sailing boat was halted by the Israeli navy and taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod, about 30km north of Gaza and the women were detained before being deported.

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