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Israel vow to block Irish aid ship heading for Gaza

Israel has vowed to keep an Irish aid ship from reaching the impoverished Gaza Strip, appealing to pro-Palestinian activists to dock at an Israeli port and avoid another showdown at sea.

The new effort to break the blockade will test Israel's resolve as it faces a wave of international outrage over its deadly naval raid of another aid ship earlier this week.

Activists on board the Irish/Malaysian-owned vessel, including Belfast-born Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire, insisted they would not resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel. They said they expect the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie to reach Gaza by late Saturday morning.

Diplomatic fallout and protests across Europe and the Muslim world have increased pressure to end the embargo Israel imposed after the Islamic militant Hamas group seized power in Gaza three years ago.

The blockade has plunged the territory's 1.5 million residents deeper into poverty and sharply raised Middle East tensions as the US makes a new push for regional peace.

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his cabinet the Irish boat would not be allowed to reach Gaza. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman said: "We have made it clear to the Irish and others, no ship will reach Gaza without a security inspection."

The Cambodian-flagged Rachel Corrie - named for an American college student who was crushed to death by a bulldozer in 2003 while protesting Israeli house demolitions in Gaza - was carrying hundreds of tons of aid, including wheelchairs, medical supplies and cement.

This latest attempt to breach the blockade differs significantly from the flotilla the Israeli troops intercepted on Monday, killing eight Turks and an American after being set upon by a group of activists. Nearly 700 activists had joined that operation, most of them aboard the lead boat from Turkey that was the scene of the violence. That boat, the Mavi Marmara, was sponsored by an Islamic aid group from Turkey, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief. Israel outlawed the group in 2008 because of alleged ties to Hamas.

By contrast, the Rachel Corrie was carrying just 11 passengers, whose effort was mainly sponsored by the Free Gaza movement, a Cyprus-based group that has renounced violence.

Ms Maguire said the group would offer no resistance if Israeli forces come aboard. "We will sit down," she said. "They will probably arrest us... but there will be no resistance."

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