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Israel Begins Deportation of Gaza Flotilla Activists

An image released by the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) shows the two Gaza-bound boats carrying pro-Palestinian activists in the Mediterranean Sea, November 4, 2011.

Israel has begun deportation procedures for a group of 27 pro-Palestinian activists who tried to break the naval blockade of Gaza.

Israel's Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sabine Haddad said two Greek crew members and three journalists from the United States, Spain and Egypt were released Saturday and the rest will be sent home within the next three days.

Israeli forces intercepted the activists' two ships in international waters late Friday and escorted them to an Israeli port north of Gaza.

The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) said the boarding was carried out in line with directives from the government after attempts were made to prevent the vessels from reaching Gaza. There were no reports of injuries.

On Friday, the IDF posted on YouTube a video showing what it said were Israeli naval officers warning the activists' ships that they were attempting to breach a legal blockade. The video also showed the officers offering the activists access to Israel for the transportation of their cargo to Gaza.

Israel imposed a naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory in 2007. It says the blockade is vital to stop weapons from reaching Palestinian militants.

A spokeswoman for the activists (Felice Gelman) told VOA the ships were carrying medical supplies and letters of solidarity for the Palestinian people. Contact with the ships was lost shortly after two Israeli navy vessels intercepted them.

The 27 activists from countries that also included Canada and Ireland set sail from Turkey on Wednesday. They said their goal was to deliver medical aid directly to Palestinians in Gaza, in defiance of Israel's blockade.

Last year, nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish-led aid flotilla headed for Gaza. The confrontation caused a deterioration in relations between Turkey and Israel.

In July, pro-Palestinian activists launched another unsuccessful attempt to reach the Palestinian territory.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.

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