GAZA, (Reuters) – Two boats carrying foreign peace activists who had defied an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip left the Hamas-ruled territory on Thursday for Cyprus, taking with them seven Palestinians.
An Israeli official said the Israeli navy would not intercept the boats.
Thousands of cheering Palestinians had welcomed the boats, carrying 44 peace activists from 17 nations, when they docked in the Gaza Strip on Saturday.
A Hamas official said nine activists decided to stay in the territory in a show of solidarity with its 1.5 million inhabitants.
The seven Palestinians who sailed with the activists to Cyprus included 16-year-old Sa’ad Mesleh, who lost a leg in an Israeli army attack on militants three years ago, as well as a mother and her four children hoping to reunite with her husband.
Mesleh’s father, Khaled, said he would seek to fit an artificial limb for his son in Cyprus. “We have agreed with the Free Gaza activists to organise more sailings to Gaza in the near future,” said Jamal al-Khodary, a Hamas-backed legislator.
Saying it wanted to avoid a public confrontation, Israel allowed the activists to reach the Gaza Strip. They were the first foreigners to come to the territory by sea since Israel tightened travel restrictions after Hamas’s takeover more than a year ago.
As part of an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire that took effect in June, Israel has eased its blockade of the territory, allowing in more humanitarian goods and medical equipment.