Pro-Palestinian activists have sailed into the Gaza Strip defying an Israeli blockade. Robert Berger reports from the VOA bureau in Jerusalem.
After originally saying it would block them, Israel allowed a group of 46 international activists to sail two boats into Palestinian-ruled Gaza. Among the activists was Greta Berlin of Los Angeles, California.
"We come from 17 countries and we have one common goal, and that is to break Israel's siege of 1.5 million Palestinians," said Berlin.
Israel has imposed a crippling blockade on Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the territory in a Palestinian civil war a year ago. Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, and until a cease-fire two months ago, Palestinian militants launched daily rocket attacks across the border.
Israeli activist Jeff Halper, who was also on board, says that does not justify the Israeli blockade.
"Israel has to be held responsible for its policies toward the civilian population. They have absolutely no right in international law to declare an economic siege on Gaza, to harm the civilian population. That's a form of collective punishment which is illegal," said Halper.
The boats set sail from Cyprus on Friday and arrived in Gaza after a 32-hour journey on the Mediterranean Sea. The activists got a warm welcome from hundreds of Palestinians as they arrived on shore with humanitarian supplies.
Berlin says, "Mission Accomplished."
"Our original mission was to sail into Gaza, open up a sea lane so that they can actually use their sea lane, and then break Israel's siege, and to tell the world that the Gaza Mediterranean belongs to the people of Gaza," she said.
Israel said the real aim of the activists was to highlight the blockade by being intercepted and arrested. So Israel decided to allow the boats into Gaza, saying it wanted to avoid a publicity stunt aimed at harming the image of the Jewish state.