French boat headed for Gaza shore: activists

19th July 2011, Comments 0 comments

Pro-Palestinian activists on board a French yacht neared the coast of Gaza on Tuesday as they headed for the Palestinian territory in a bid to break an Israeli naval blockade on the coastal strip.

The boat set sail for Gaza after a night anchored at sea, despite Israeli warnings that it would intercept the vessel -- the only boat remaining from a flotilla of 10 ships that had planned to breach Israel's blockade this summer.

The Dignite/Al Karama set sail on Saturday from the Greek island of Kastellorizo following a troubled stay in Greece, after Athens imposed a ban on the departure of any ships involved in the flotilla.

Reached by phone in Paris, a spokesman for the French vessel told AFP it was now moving slowly towards Gaza.

"The boat, which is moving slowly in a calm sea, should arrive in around five or six hours, which would be around midday, at the Gaza coast," Julian Rivoire told AFP.

Activists on board the boat, tweeting in both French and English at @BateauGazaFr, announced early Tuesday that the vessel was setting sail for Gaza after spending the night anchored.

"We're cleaning ourselves up a little bit before arriving. Morale here is like the sky and sea, very good," activists on board the French-flagged yacht wrote early Monday morning in French.

"Gaza, off we go, stay connected!!!," the activists added in English.

The Israeli military confirmed that it was "monitoring the boat," but would not say where the vessel was, how military personnel might intercept it and how close the activists would be allowed to get to Gaza.

On Monday, Israeli deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said the Jewish state would prevent any attempt to breach the naval blockade on Gaza.

"If this boat is on its way to Gaza, which is a breach of international maritime law, and tries a provocative act -- yes, we shall intercept it," he told reporters in Jerusalem.

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

© 2011 AFP

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