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Israel Says it will Prevent Peace Protest Boats Reaching Gaza Strip

Rory McCarthy

Israel warned tonight that an attempt by peace activists to sail twoboats to the Gaza Strip was a “provocation” and said it would consider“all options” to prevent them reaching their destination.

A group of 46 activists set sail this morning from Cyprus and werehoping to reach Gaza tomorrow to challenge the economic blockade Israelhas imposed on the territory, as well as delivering a cargo of 200hearing aids for a deaf school and 5,000 balloons.

Among those on board is Lauren Booth, Tony Blair’s sister-in-law.“I’ve been nervous, but today I’m excited,” said Booth, 41, shortlybefore the boats sailed. “It’s not about our fear, it’s about thepeople waiting in Gaza. You can’t think about anything else.”

Israel has already warned the two boats not to undertake the journeyand tonight Aviv Shiron, the spokesman for Israel’s foreign ministry,said the journey was a “provocation” and that “all options” were underconsideration to prevent the boats reaching Gaza.

It appears most likely that there will be a standoff with theIsraeli authorities tomorrow and that the activists will be arrestedrather than allowed into Gaza.

Although Israel withdrew its soldiers and settlers in 2005, it stillcontrols Gaza’s air space and sea space, as well as nearly all theborder crossings.

Until a recent ceasefire with Hamas - the Islamist group that wonPalestinian elections more than two years ago and now controls Gaza -the Israeli military was mounting regular incursions into theterritory, saying it wanted to stop rocket fire into southern Israel.It has imposed a tight economic blockade aimed at weakening Hamas.

In a statement issued as they departed today, the activists saidthey would lodge a legal protest against any attempt by the Israelis toarrest them.

“If Israel chooses to forcibly stop and search our ships, we willnot forcibly resist,” they said. “If we are arrested and brought toIsrael, we will protest and prosecute our kidnapping in the appropriateforums … It is our purpose to show the power that ordinary citizens ofthe world have when they organise together to stand against injustice.”

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