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Gaza-bound ship takes on food, activists in Greece

ATHENS--A sailing ship with pro-Palestinian activists that is planning to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza took on food and passengers off the southern Greek coast, a spokesman said Wednesday.

The Estelle, which first set off from Sweden and left Naples in Italy on Oct. 6, stopped in international waters off the island of Crete Tuesday afternoon, where it loaded up with food and passengers.

The ship then continued its journey with five lawmakers on board — one from Sweden, one from Spain, two Greeks and a Norwegian, the spokesman for the Ship to Gaza Sweden movement, Mikael Loefgren, told AFP by telephone.

Thirty doves that are to be freed when the boat arrives in Gaza were also on board.

“They will now sail to Gaza. It's hard to say when they get there given the type of unpredictable sea we have now in the eastern Mediterranean,” said Loefgren.

He expected the Estelle to arrive in Gaza around Saturday.

Loefgren identified the members of parliament as Ricardo Sixto Iglesias from Spain, Sven Britton from Sweden, Aksel Hagen from Norway, Vangelis Diamandopoulos and Dimitris Kodelas from Greece, as well as former Canadian lawmaker Jim Manly.

“We will not allow the law of the mighty to prevail, whether militarily, politically or economically,” Kodelas said in a statement released by his radical leftist party Syriza, which has spearheaded anti-austerity protests in Greece.

“We will impose justice and democracy,” Kodelas said.

“The claim for bread, independence, freedom and democracy is not only by peoples facing military occupation or expansionism. It now concerns all of southern Europe ... a red thread links Greece to other countries and people who fight,” he said.

An activist for the Free Gaza movement told AFP that Greek coast guards failed to stop two speed boats from leaving the small port of Plakias in southern Crete with the supplies on Tuesday afternoon.

On its way to Naples, the Estelle had stopped in Finland, France and Spain.

Organizers say it carries humanitarian aid and its exact location can be followed on the flotilla's Ship to Gaza website/

The voyage was organized by an international pro-Palestinian coalition.

Israel says the blockade of the Gaza Strip is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the coastal territory, which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas.

The first Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 ended in tragedy when nine Turkish nationals were killed after Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the lead ship, as it tried to break through the blockade.

A second attempt to break the blockade in mid-2011 with a coalition of ships setting sail from Athens failed after Greek authorities intercepted the boats, banning their departure and towing back into port those who tried to leave.

In November last year, the Israeli navy also intercepted two Irish and Canadian ships carrying 27 passengers and crew that were trying to breach the blockade in international waters off Gaza.

Israel warned Finland last week that it would stop the boat by force if it tries to break the blockade.

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Palestinian fishermen prepare their nets in Gaza City's harbor, Wednesday, Oct. 17. Estelle, a ship carrying rights activists whose voyage is being organized by an international pro-Palestinian coalition, is the latest to try to break Israel's blockade, carrying humanitarian goods to the Hamas-run territory this week. (AFP)

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