Greece bars boats from sailing for Gaza

ATHENS, Greece — Greece on Friday banned ships heading to the Gaza Strip from leaving Greek ports, and a vessel carrying several dozen Americans which left port without permission was asked to return.

A flotilla of nine Greek and foreign-flagged vessels and several hundred activists have said they want to break Israel's sea blockade and deliver aid to the Palestinian territory.

Greece's Civil Protection Ministry said coast guard authorities had been ordered to take "all appropriate measures" to implement the ban. It also said the "broader maritime area of the eastern Mediterranean will be continuously monitored by electronic means for tracking, where applicable, the movements of the ships allegedly participating" in the flotilla.

Witnesses said one of the boats, dubbed the Audacity of Freedom and carrying several dozen Americans, had left port Friday afternoon. Activists said on their Twitter feed that they had been intercepted by the Greek coast guard.

A Greek government official said the boat had set sail without the permission required of all boats to leave port, and that the Coast Guard had asked it to return. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the situation was still evolving.

Israel has said it will thwart any effort to breach the sea blockade of Gaza, which was imposed on the Palestinian territory after Hamas militants overran it in 2007.

An Israeli raid on a similar flotilla last year killed nine activists on a Turkish ship and each side blamed the other for the violence.

On Thursday, an Irish ship, the MV Saoirse at the Turkish coastal town of Gocek, said it had to abandon plans to set sail because of what it called Israeli sabotage. Earlier this week, activists said Israeli agents damaged the propeller of a Swedish ship in the Greek port. Israel has refused AP requests for comment on the allegations.

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