Activist: Pro-Palestinian boat en route to Gaza
JERUSALEM -- A boat carrying pro-Palestinian advocates from eight countries is en route to Gaza in the latest attempt to break Israel's naval blockade on the coastal territory, an activist on board said Tuesday.
Dror Feiler, an Israeli on the boat, said it left Naples on Sunday and aims to reach Gaza in mid-October. He said the boat is carrying items such as cement, basketballs, musical instruments and theater lighting equipment. Others aboard include a Canadian, a Swede and a Spaniard, another activist said.
Israel imposed the blockade after the militant Islamic Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007 from their rival, the more secular Palestinian Fatah.
Palestinians and their backers consider the blockade illegal collective punishment against the people of Gaza. A September 2011 U.N. report upheld the legality of the naval blockade, calling it a "legitimate security measure," although it criticized land restrictions. Other legal experts at the U.N., along with the Red Cross, have said the blockade is illegal.
Under heavy international pressure, Israel eased the closure in 2010 after a naval raid killed nine Turkish activists on board another Gaza-bound flotilla.
While many consumer goods now flow into Gaza through an Israeli-controlled crossing, some restrictions, including limits on exports, imports of key construction goods and the naval blockade, remain in place.
Israel says the closure is needed to keep Hamas from obtaining weapons. Gaza militants smuggle weapons into the area through tunnels under the border with Egypt.
Gaza militants launched dozens of mortar rounds at southern Israel on Monday.
The Israeli military would not say whether it plans to stop the boat, saying in a statement only that it will "continue to ensure that the maritime restrictions near the Gaza Strip, instituted to prevent weapons transfers, are maintained."
It said the aid on the boat should be delivered to Gaza through authorized Israeli-controlled crossings.