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Gaza awaits aid flotilla.

Activists aboard the Freedom Flotilla carrying over 15,000 tonnes of aid for Gaza are expected to near its shores by this afternoon.

Carrying over 700 passengers, the flotilla faces a possible confrontation with Israel as warships have already been positioned in international waters.

Israel says it intends to intercept the boats, confiscate the aid and detain or deport the passengers.

"I am asking the international community to protect these boats from the Israeli threat," independent Palestinian MP Jamal Al Khudari said during a press conference on a boat anchored just outside the Gaza port.

Al Khudari said the convoy would stop outside Gaza territorial waters before attempting to make landfall.

Two stages

It will travel "in two stages", he said.

"First they will stop in international waters about 30 nautical miles [from Gaza], and [today] they will reach the shore."

However, Israel is said to have extended the military zone that it has unilaterally imposed on Gaza's waters from 20 to 68 nautical miles.

At the time of departure, Gulf News was unable to confirm the report. It is believed that if indeed the military zone has been extended it was done to pursue the flotilla in international waters, and away from the coast of Gaza.

Israel has in the past pursued such aid boats in international waters, but its latest move could be an attempt to have a legal cover for doing so again.

Earlier, Audrey Bomse, legal adviser to the Free Gaza Movement, said the convoy was likely to avoid a confrontation with the Israeli military during hours of darkness. Bomse also said the activists were considering sending "a second wave" of boats later this week, which would include a boat that was damaged at the weekend, in what organisers charged was due to "sabotage", and the Rachel Corrie cargo ship, which is still en route to the eastern Mediterranean.

Palestinian demonstrators are planning to release scores of balloons with pictures tied to them of children who were killed during Israel's huge 22-day offensive against Gaza which ended in January 2009.

See also Page 13

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Publication:Gulf News (United Arab Emirates)
Date:May 31, 2010
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