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Americans join Gaza flotilla

Associated Press / June 21, 2011

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NEW YORK — A group of Americans hopes to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in the coming days when it joins a flotilla of ships sailing with aid to the Palestinian territory.

Nearly half of the 36 Americans who will sail on the US-flagged boat, called the Audacity of Hope, attended a news conference yesterday announcing that they would fly to Athens to prepare for the journey. The ship draws its name from the title of President Obama’s second book.

Activists describe Israeli restrictions on Gaza’s 1.5 million residents as a human rights violation. But Israel says its blockade stops weapons from reaching Iran-backed Hamas militants.

Nine activists died in a botched Israeli commando operation on a Turkish ship during a similar flotilla last year. Each side accused the other of starting the violence.

Last week, organizers of the new Gaza-bound flotilla said the Turkish ship that became an international symbol of anti-Israeli activism has dropped out of operation. The withdrawal of the Mavi Marmara ferry from the convoy that aims to break the blockade removes a potential flashpoint for confrontation.

Israel has warned that it will not allow any more ships to break the blockade, and said without providing details that security forces have adopted new tactics since last year’s raid in an effort to limit casualties.

IHH, the Islamic aid group in Turkey that refitted the Mavi Marmara after Israel returned it after the raid, said technical problems prevented it from joining 10 other ships that will head for Gaza from European ports on June 25.

Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize and pay compensation for last year’s flotilla raid, but the possibility of a diplomatic confrontation over a second flotilla could divert Turkey’s focus on problems with neighboring Syria and its uprising against President Bashar Assad.

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