A flotilla of aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip has left Cyprus, organisers say. (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk)
Around 5am local time (2am GMT), five ships left the island and they are expected to reach Gazan waters late on Sunday afternoon.
Two other ships were damaged over the weekend, and remain in port.
A second smaller flotilla might leave for Gaza on Tuesday, organisers said, which would include the two damaged ships, plus a third which has yet to arrive.
‘Act of provocation’
Initially it was expected that the flotilla would set sail on Saturday, but it was delayed over the weekend due to mechanical problems.
The boats were forced to anchor off the coast of Cyprus this weekend.
Hamas, the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip, have said that the flotilla was about to make history, sending “a strong message that the blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip … will be broken”.
Israel said the boats were embarking on “an act of provocation” with the Israeli military rather than providing aid, and that it had issued warrants to prohibit their entrance to Gaza.
By landing in Gaza, the flotilla would be breaking international law, asserted Israel, a claim angrily denied by the organisers.
Israel has said that it will intercept the boats and detain those on board in the port of Ashdod.
“Now we are thinking of sending a second wave of boats including these two and the Rachel Corrie, which is still en route” from Ireland, said Audrey Bomse, an adviser to the Free Gaza Movement.
On board the flotilla are hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists. They aim to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli embargo on the territory.
Originally, the flotilla was made up of nine ships – from Turkey, the UK, Ireland, Greece, Kuwait and Algeria -carrying roughly 10,000 tonnes of aid, including cement, water purification systems and wheelchairs.