Freedom Flotilla edging closer to besieged Gaza
An international flotilla seeking to challenge Israel's crippling maritime blockade of the besieged Gaza Strip is nearing its destination, activists said on Sunday.
A three-vessel "Freedom Flotilla" left Palermo, Sicily, on 21 July and the first of them, named al-Awda 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.
However, although its exact location is unknown, supporters said on Saturday.
Stambul, who is not aboard, said that about 40 activists from 15 countries, including two from France, were taking part.
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".
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.
Breaking the siege
The Freedom Flotilla set sail in May for the Gaza Strip to challenge Israel's decade-old blockade of the besieged territory.
One of the vessels, al-Awda, was named to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the al-Nakba ("The Catastrophe), in which more than 700,000 Palestinians fled or were forcibly expelled from their homes during the establishment of the Israeli state.
This year's freedom flotilla was deployed just weeks after Israeli forces opened fire on demonstrators in Gaza protesting for the right of return, killing more than 60.
"The blockade of Gaza is in its 11th year. It is such a gross violation of international law that it can be characterised as a crime against humanity," participant Mikkel Grüner, a Danish national who is city councillor in Bergen, Norway, said at the time the flotilla set sail.
Volunteers joined the multinational fleet for different legs of the journey, with a select group of crew assigned to participate in the final run to Gaza.
The flotilla schedule was kept secret to protect the crew. In the past, mechanical failures have affected previous flotilla attempts, with allegations Israel may have tampered with the ships.
Agencies contributed to this report.