Blockade-busting boat arrives in Gaza Strip

A ship loaded with international pro-Palestinian activists intent on breaking Israel's blockade of the coastal salient docked in Gaza Wednesday morning, despite a vow by Israeli officials not to let the vessel enter the enclave's territorial waters, reported dpa.

"The Dignity," with 27 people on board, including Western human- rights activists, peace activists, journalists, and European and Palestinian lawmakers, moored at 8 am (0600 GMT), officials in naval police force of Hamas, which controls the territory, said.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that although Israel had originally said the boat would not be allowed to land in Gaza, last-minute consultations at the highest level on Tuesday night had resulted in the decision being changed.

The Israel Navy was consequently instructed not to interfere with the boat's passage, he said.

The boat left Cyprus on Tuesday and the activists plan to remain in the Strip for four days, touring the area Jamal al-Khodary, the head of Gaza-based Popular Committee Against the Siege, said.

The voyage to Gaza was the second made by the activists since Israel tightened its sanctions against the Strip after Hamas routed forces loyal to President Mahmoud Abbas and seized control of the territory in June 2007.

The previous voyage was in August, when Israel did not hinder the boat's arrival.

Israel first imposed restrictions on Gaza after Hamas, which officially rejects any accommodation with the Jewish state, won the 2006 Palestinian parliamentary elections.

The arrival of "The Dignity" Wednesday morning also led the Hamas administration in Gaza to urge Egypt to open its border with the Strip to allow movement of people in and out of the salient.

Hamas spokesman Fawzi Barhoom said the arrival of the boat required "an Egyptian response to the suffering of the Gaza Strip residents by opening Rafah crossing point."

"We highly appreciate the efforts by the Arab and foreign activists in solidarity," he said. "Their success proves that the siege can be overcome if the Arab officials have had the effective will."

Hamas also criticized Egypt for preventing Egyptian campaigners and Arab parliamentarians from trying to reach Gaza Strip through its territories.

Egypt has kept its border with the Gaza Strip, which includes the Rafah crossing point, tightly closed since the Hamas takeover of June last year.

Although Hamas gunmen managed in late January this year to force huge holes in the Gaza-Sinai border fence, causing hundreds of thousands of Gaza to flood into the peninsula, Egypt moved quickly to close the breech.

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