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Activists To Test Gaza Naval Blockade

JERUSALEM - Taking the protest against the Gaza blockade to a new level, two boats packed with foreign left-wing activists will attempt to sail from Cyprus to the sealed Gaza harbor in two weeks' time.

The operation is being directed by members of the International Solidarity Movement and the Israeli Commission against House Demolitions. A Web site, FreeGaza, has been set up to collect donations and update the public.

The group - which numbers some 40 activists - has purchased two boats, one called SS Free Gaza and the other SS Liberty, named after the USS Liberty that was mistakenly bombed by the Israel Air Force during the Six Day War. Thirty-four American sailors were killed in the bombing.

The boats are scheduled to set sail from Cyprus on August 5 and arrive, according to organizer Angela Godfrey-Goldstein, at the Gaza coast a day or two later.

"The purpose is to get into the Gaza harbor and breach the siege," Godfrey-Goldstein said Thursday. "The IDF will probably stop us but part of the point is to show that Gaza is closed off."

She said that if the boats were stopped by the Israel Navy, they would likely remain at sea for a few days in an effort to get the government to change its policy and allow free access to Gaza by sea.

Such access is not allowed and the waters off the coast are patrolled by the navy, mainly due to weapons-smuggling from Egypt and other countries.

In April, The Jerusalem Post reported that Iran was increasing its efforts to smuggle arms into the Strip by dropping floating devices off the Gaza coast that are then picked up by Gazan fisherman.

According to defense officials, Iran was sending rockets and other advanced weaponry to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in the Gaza Strip via tunnels dug under the Philadelphi Corridor from Sinai as well as by sea. Officials said the navy was doing an effective job in curbing the smuggling by sea but that there were shipments that Israeli forces had not succeeded in intercepting.

The IDF Spokesman's Office would not say what the navy intends to do in the event that the protest boats try to enter the Gaza harbor.

© 2008 The Jerusalem Post

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