A flotilla carrying pro-Palestinian activists is heading to Crete en route to the Gaza Strip in a bid to break the Israeli and Egyptian-imposed blockade on the Palestinian enclave.
The Marianne of Gothenburg, a Scandinavian fishing boat, traveled from Sweden through the waters of Norway, Germany, France, Spain and Portugal before reaching Messina, Italy, last week.
“The short stop in Messina was an intensive one with meetings with peace activists and a press conference at the city hall,” the group noted on its website.
On board the ship are Swedish journalist Kajsa Ekis Ekman, Swedish-Israeli composer Dror Feiler, Spanish Member of the European Parliament Ana Maria Miranda Paza, and others.
The boat was making its way to Crete, Greece, on Sunday, before attempting to breach the blockade and reach Gaza. Along the way it will meet up with at least two other boats that make up the flotilla.
Thanks @awnifarhat, we hope we'll reach Gaza this time. The third, the charm 😉
— Freedom Flotilla (@GazaFFlotilla) June 20, 2015
The activists say the vessels are carrying a cargo of solar panels and medical supplies for Gaza residents, who are still recovering from last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, and expect to reach the Strip by the end of the month, unless they are intercepted.
Activists told al-Jazeera that they have a “strict nonviolence policy” and would not attempt to use force against the Israeli Navy should they be intercepted in international waters or beyond.
Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when the Islamist Hamas group took control of the Strip in a bloody coup, ousting the Palestinian Authority leadership.
Both countries say the security blockade is meant to prevent Hamas, a terror group avowedly committed to the destruction of Israel, from importing weaponry into Gaza to use against Israel.
The IDF has intercepted a number of civilian ships carrying weapons headed for Gaza in recent years. It has also turned away attempts by activists to break the blockade.
In 2010, Israeli commandos intercepted the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in a flotilla dispatched to Gaza by the Turkish relief agency Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), and were violently attacked by those on board, with several soldiers seriously injured. Nine Turks died when the commandos opened fire in what Israel said was self-defense, and one more died in hospital last year.
The assault on the ship sparked widespread condemnation and provoked a major diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel. Ties between the two former allies have yet to recover.