Israel allows yacht to reach shores of Gaza

A boatload of pro-Palestinian activists landed Wednesday on the shores of the Gaza Strip, the latest move in an ongoing campaign to defy Israeli restrictions on access to the seaside territory.

A potential showdown at sea was averted at the last minute when the Israeli government abruptly backed down from threats to intercept the 66-foot yacht.

The yacht Dignity arrived from Cyprus carrying medical supplies and 27 passengers – including former Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Maguire, a Palestinian rights supporter who in 1976 won the prize for her work with Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland. The journey continued a campaign launched in August when a pair of ships first made the Cyprus-Gaza run.

“I think we're right at the point where (the boat campaign) stops being symbolic and begins to seriously weaken the Israeli siege,” said Palestinian parliament member Moustafa Barghouti.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor downplayed the significance of the campaign, claiming that the welcoming crowds Wednesday were significantly smaller than in August.

The activists met with former Palestinian Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas – which seized control of the Gaza Strip last summer from the Fatah faction.

Barghouti hailed the day's journey as a victory.

“Hopefully it shows all groups, including Hamas, the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance,” Barghouti said.