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Gaza Flotilla Organizers Blame Israel for Boat Sabotage

U.S. and French activists chant slogans as they hold placards after a news conference about an international flotilla to blockaded Gaza, in Athens, June 27, 2011

Pro-Palestinian activists organizing an aid flotilla that plans to challenge the Israeli blockade on Gaza are accusing Israel of sabotaging one of their ships in an attempt to break Israel's blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian participant in the flotilla, says professional divers targeted an Irish boat in port.

"The propeller axles were cut through, like a chunk was cut out of it, in a way that when the engine was started, it completely bent," said Arraf.

Speaking from Athens, Arraf told Israel's Army Radio that if this happened at sea, the boat could have sunk and the passengers drowned.

The incident occurred two days after a Scandinavian ship suffered similar damage, which organizers also blamed on Israel.

Israel has not commented on the allegations, but it continues to warn the flotilla not to sail to Gaza.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak said if the ships insist on challenging the naval blockade, they will be intercepted by the Israeli Navy and the organizers will be responsible for any injuries or damage.

Israel says it hopes to avoid a repeat of a botched commando raid on a Gaza aid flotilla a year ago in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed.

But it says it is determined to enforce the blockade to prevent weapons from reaching the Palestinian militant group Hamas that rules Gaza.

Organizers say they still hope to sail to Gaza with about 10 boats and two cargo ships loaded with humanitarian aid for the Palestinians. Most of the ships are docked in Greece where they have encountered administrative problems, also blamed on Israel.

There are about 300 people on board, including journalists, politicians, writers and religious figures.

Israel, the United States and the United Nations have urged the flotilla to sail to Israeli or Egyptian ports and transfer its cargo legally to Gaza over land. But the activists say they reserve the right to sail to Gaza because the Israeli blockade is illegal and immoral.

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