July 18, 2011 / 12:02 PM / 6 years ago

French yacht from grounded flotilla sails for Gaza

GAZA (Reuters) - A French yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists sailed for the Gaza Strip Monday after other ships in a flotilla that had planned to challenge Israel's blockade were grounded in Greece, organizers said.

They said the 17-passenger "Dignite-AlKarama," having declared an Egyptian port as its official destination, left Greek waters Sunday and was on course to reach the Palestinian enclave by Tuesday.

"It is now the voice of the whole Freedom Flotilla, as all its ships were forbidden to sail by the Greek government thereby fulfilling a clear demand by the Israeli government," said a statement issued by French campaigners aligned with the umbrella Free Gaza Movement.

Passenger Dror Feiler said the yacht planned to dock in Gaza at around noon Tuesday. "We don't want to sail at night," he told Reuters via satellite telephone.

Israel, whose marines killed nine Turkish activists while storming a Gaza-bound flotilla on the Mediterranean high seas last year, has vowed to stop any new attempt to breach a naval blockade it deems necessary to prevent arms from reaching the ruling Palestinian Islamist group Hamas.

"If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law, and it is trying a provocative act, yes, we will intercept it," Deputy Israeli Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told foreign journalists in Jerusalem.

"But I assure you that we will try our best to make all those on board very comfortable."

Activist vessels that had berthed in Greece last month were refused permission by local authorities to sail on to Gaza. Two were turned back by the coast guard after leaving port without authorization. Organizers said two boats were also sabotaged.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement said the Dignite-AlKarame had declared Alexandria, Egypt, as its destination "in order to get out of Greece."

"But you can change destinations in the middle of the Mediterranean, any time you want to," she said. "It's legal to do that."

Palestinians and their supporters consider the Gaza blockade illegal and say it stunts the economic development of the territory, most of whose 1.5 million residents rely on aid to survive.

Writing by Dan Williams; Editing by Tim Pearce

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