Human rights activists set sail from Cyprus on Friday, August 22, to the Gaza Strip to break the months-long Israeli blockade on the 1.6 million Palestinians in the poverty-stricken strip.
"The goal of our voyage is to break the illegal siege on the people of Gaza as a step toward ending the Israeli occupation of Palestine," said the Free Gaza Movement in a statement cited by Agence France-Presse (AFP).
To the cheers of supporters, the activists left from Larnaca port on Cyprus’s south coast at 9.50 am (0650 GMT) aboard two fishing boats.
The boats — Liberty and Free Gaza — are sailing under Greek flags and are carrying 200 hearing aids for Gaza children and 5,000 balloons.
"To remove any ‘security’ pretence that Israel may raise, we have had our boats inspected and certified by Cypriot authorities that they carry no arms or contraband of any kind."
The activists, who hail from 14 countries, include students, lawyers and journalists.
They hope to draw attention to the plight of Gaza’s 1.6 million Palestinians suffering under the Israeli siege.
"We are human rights activists, invited to visit Gaza by our Palestinian partners," said the statement.
"If Israel chooses to forcibly stop and search our ships, we will not forcibly resist. Such a search will be under duress and with our formal protest.
"After such a search, we fully expect the Israeli navy to stand aside, as we continue peacefully to Gaza."
Israel, backed by the US, has been closing the Gaza Strip’s exits to the outside world since Hamas took control of the territory last June.
It has completely locked down the area since January, banning food and fuel shipment supplies.
The activists say the voyage aims to highlight the plight of the Gazans suffering shortages of everything from food to fuel because of the Israeli siege.
"The siege that the Israelis have imposed on Gaza is not only illegal in terms of international law, it is also immoral," Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian with Israeli and US citizenship, told Reuters.
"Global institutions and the governments of the world know what is happening and are not doing anything about it."
Eight British aid groups have warned that the 1.6 million Palestinians in Gaza are living through the worst humanitarian crisis in 40 years due to the Israeli blockade.
"There is this slow genocide going on in Gaza and nobody is taking any notice," said British journalist and author Yvonne.
"When the Holocaust happened the whole world looked the other way while this atrocity against humanity was unfolding and it was often said we cannot allow this to happen again."
(IslamOnline.net and news agencies)