Page last updated at 12:13 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 13:13 UK

Activists challenge Gaza blockade

By Rachid Sekkai,
BBC News

Lauren Booth in Cyprus
Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of Middle East envoy Tony Blair will be on board

About 45 people are here in the port of Larnaca in Cyprus, preparing to sail south to Gaza.

The group includes Americans, Palestinians and Israelis among the 15 nationalities represented.

President of the Free Gaza Movement, Greta Berlin explains the mission.

"This is a non-violent resistance project to challenge Israel's siege of Gaza. Israel claims that Gaza is no longer occupied, yet Israeli forces control Gaza by land, sea and air".

Israel imposed an economic blockade on Gaza after Hamas forces violently seized control from Fatah in June 2007. The squeeze is also aimed at stopping militants firing rockets at southern Israel.

No Israeli authorisation

The organisers' plan is to enter Gaza from international waters without Israel's authorisation, to recognise Palestinian control over its own borders.

Two wooden boats, Free Gaza and Liberty, will also carry a cargo of 200 hearing aids which are destined for children in Gaza whose hearing has been damaged by explosions and sonic booms.

Huwaida Arraf (L) and Lynne Levy (R)
Americans, Palestinians and Israelis are joining together on the trip

Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of the former British Prime Minister Tony Blair who is now an international envoy to the Middle East , tells me she is travelling as both supporter and reporter.

"I dearly want to go to Gaza again to support the Palestinians and to show the world the reality of what's going on there".

Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein is making the journey - at the age of 83 - for humanitarian reasons.

"We intend to open the port, fish with the fishermen, and work in the schools".

The organisers have been open about the risks involved in making such a trip.

Greta Berlin says if the first boat is stopped or attacked by Israeli forces, the passengers will use non-violent resistance, and the second vessel will follow "no matter what".

Note 14 August 2008: An earlier version of this story was billed as a diary entry. We will not now be covering the voyage in the format of a diary, but we will continue to report on its progress.

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