Lebanese Activists Will Sail to Gaza, Defy Israeli Blockade

A cargo ship carrying Lebanese activists and supplies will set sail for the besieged Gaza Strip early next year to defy an Israeli blockade, the organizer said Tuesday.

The European-flagged ship carrying supplies including power generators and food will sail from southern Lebanon on Jan. 3 to the eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus before heading to Gaza. Authorities at Larnaca port are expected to inspect the cargo and passengers before it proceeds to Gaza.

Hani Sleiman, a lawyer and university professor, said the indirect route is designed to deprive Israel of any excuse not to allow the ship into Gaza.

Passengers include activists from civil society groups and journalists.

Five ships carrying activists and goods have run the blockade since the summer, but it will be the first time a ship carrying people and goods from Lebanon, a neighboring country officially at war with Israel, will attempt the trip.

Sleiman expressed hope the ship will succeed in making it to Gaza.

"The aim is to break the blockade and show solidarity and make the Palestinians feel they are not alone," he told The Associated Press. "What are they (the Israelis) going to do? Sink it? This is a peace ship, a commercial, civilian one."

The last boat to make the trip on Dec. 20 carried a Qatari delegation, Lebanese activists and journalists from Israel and Lebanon. Qatar, an Arab Gulf state, has warm relations with both Israel and Hamas.

Israel and Egypt closed Gaza's borders after Hamas seized control of the territory in June 2007. Since November, Israel has tightened the blockade to pressure Gaza militants to halt their rocket fire on Israeli border towns.