International rights activists will sail with a "Free Gaza Movement" ship to make a " symbolic" attempt to cross the border into the Gaza Strip on an emergency mission to help ease the suffering of the Palestinians in the coastal area, according to a coordinator of the movement on Monday.
The coordinator, Caiomhe Butterly, told Xinhua on phone that the activists including some doctors and journalists had boarded the ship at the Cypriot port of Larnaca late Monday afternoon.
Gaza's nine hospitals were overwhelmed on Monday - more than 1, 400 were wounded in over three days of fighting.
According to Butterly, on board the ship, three to four tons of urgently needed medical supplies including bandages, splints and rubber gloves are destined for the shores of Gaza.
"There are items on board that any medical community should have access to, but these supplies are not available," said Butterly.
The Free Gaza Movement first made the crossing in August to highlight the plight of the impoverished territory's 1.5 million Palestinian residents.
"We are not asking Israel for 'permission' to go, and we will not stop until the dignity lands in Gaza. We will hold Israel responsible for the safety of our passengers and our cargo of emergency medicine," the group wrote in an email sent to Xinhua.
When asked what they may expect to encounter on the trip, Butterly said, "I have heard that the port has been bombed by Israel, the weather is very bad, the bombings are still going on."
"I don't think the voyage will be easy," she added.
When asked why the "Free Gaza" ship was allowed through so many times in the past, while others were blocked, Butterly said it was a sign that Israel "does not see this project as a threat."
Israel had warned the activists ahead of its previous journeys not to enter the closed military zone it maintains around the Gaza Strip but did not interfere with the voyages.
"We are hoping that Israel will see this as a humanitarian mission and will let us pass again," said the group coordinator.
Israel continued to bomb Hamas targets in Gaza for a third day on Monday as the death toll rose to at least 320, medics said.
At least 51 civilians in the Gaza Strip have also been killed in Israeli air strikes since Saturday, including eight children under the age of 17 who were killed in two separate strikes late Sunday and Monday, according to a UN aid agency.
Meanwhile, Israel continues to send more tanks toward the Gaza border and approved the call-up of thousands of reserve soldiers for a possible ground invasion.
Butterly asserted that, "Even if we do not manage to cross, due to the weather and the possibility that the Israeli navy will stop us, we will at least send a message to the Palestinian people that they are not alone right now."
(Xinhua News Agency December 30, 2008)