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Greek coastguard: French Gaza boat sails to Egypt

July 17, 2011 12:23 P.M. (Updated: July 18, 2011 6:50 P.M.)
ATHENS (AFP) -- A French yacht carrying activists hoping to run the Israeli blockade on Gaza has sailed to Egypt after a troubled stay in Greece, the Greek coastguard said late on Saturday.

The Dignite/Al-Karama sailed to the Egyptian port of Alexandria from the tiny Greek island of Kastellorizo, where it had berthed for the past few days, the coastguard said.

While there, it was prevented from sailing on Friday after colliding with a Greek coastguard rescue vessel and causing limited damage, authorities said.

The yacht had previously been taken to the port of Sitia on Crete after being stopped whilst sneaking away last week in defiance of a ban on any ships setting sail from Greece in an attempt to run the Israeli blockade on Gaza.

Other boats which had been expected to participate in the 10-vessel international aid flotilla were similarly blocked from leaving Greece.

The flotilla had been due to set sail in early July but was hit by a wave of administrative obstacles which organisers blamed on Israeli political pressure.

Officials in Athens say they imposed the ban for the "safety" of the activists on board in the wake of last year's bloody showdown when Israeli commandos raided a six-ship flotilla in a confrontation that left nine Turkish activists dead.

More than 300 activists from 22 countries had signed up to participate in this year's flotilla, among them dozens of middle-aged and elderly Americans and Europeans.

Greece has offered to forward the aid to Gaza through its own resources, but claims that the activists have not taken up the proposal.

Israel has made no secret of its determination to prevent the Freedom Flotilla II from reaching Gaza, which has been under a blockade since 2006 after militants there snatched an Israeli soldier who is still being held at a secret location.

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