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Flotilla Challenges Israeli Blockade of Gaza

A confrontation is looming between the Israeli navy and international activists on the high seas off the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip.

A flotilla of eight ships carrying more than 700 pro-Palestinian activists is heading towards the Gaza Strip, which is under a crippling Israeli blockade. The fleet is carrying 10,000 tons of supplies, including medicine and cement.

Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement says Israel has been strangling the Palestinians since the end of the Gaza War 16 months ago.

"We want to break Israel's blockade of Gaza and we are taking in building supplies because Israel is not allowing the people of Gaza to rebuild," said Berlin.

Israel has imposed a blockade on Gaza since the Islamic militant group Hamas seized control of the territory three years ago. Hamas refuses to renounce violence or recognize Israel, and it is holding a captured Israeli soldier. The blockade is aimed at weakening and isolating Hamas, but Berlin says it is collective punishment.

"We are there to challenge, we are there to challenge Israel and say you cannot do this to 1.5 million civilians," she added.

Israel says it is allowing plenty of basic food and supplies into Gaza, and it describes the flotilla as a provocation. Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor says the ships will be intercepted by the Israeli navy.

"These ships are not about carrying in humanitarian aid, they are about clashing at all costs with Israel. When you have rioters coming your way, you have to stop them," said Palmor.

Israel has set up a makeshift detention center on shore and the international activists will be given a choice: Be deported at Israel's expense, or go to jail.