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'Estelle,' Gaza-bound aid boat, blocked by Israeli navy

'Estelle' latest challenge to Israel's Gaza blockade.

Gaza blockade 2012 03 06Enlarge
Before Hamas' take-over of the Gaza Strip in 2007, the territory’s exports totalled 86 truckloads a day on average, with more than 85 percent of its products going to the West Bank. (CRIS BOURONCLE/AFP/Getty Images)

Israel today blocked a boat carrying several dozen pro-Palestinian activists as it tried to reach Gaza Strip in defiance of the Israeli blockade, according to the Associated Press

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The Israeli military released a statement saying no one had been injured when navy troops "boarded the Estelle en route to the Gaza Strip attempting to break the maritime security blockade," reported AP

An Israeli raid on a ship making a similar attempt two years ago left nine Turkish activists dead, prompting international outcry.

In a separate development today, officials say Qatar has reached an agreement with Egypt -- which also borders the Gaza Strip -- that would allow the delivery of goods and materials into the restricted area, according to an unconfirmed report by Agence France-Presse

Meanwhile, the "Estelle," a Finnish-flagged boat that left Sweden under the auspices of the group Ship to Gaza, has been forced to dock in the Israeli port city of Ashdod, according to AP.

Victoria Strand of Ship to Gaza called the move by Israel "a demonstration of ruthlessness," said AP

The ship's cargo was said to include cement and medical supplies, reported BBC News. AP said there were 30 people on board of various nationalities, while BBC cited 20

Palestinians protest Israel's Gaza Strip blockade on humanitarian grounds. Israel says the restrictions prevent weapons from reaching Hamas, a militant Sunni Palestinian group that does not recognize Israel's right to exist. 

Israel imposed the blockade when Hamas took control of the contested area in 2007 but relaxed some economic restrictions after coming under scrutiny over the deadly ship raid two years ago, said BBC.

However, key industries there continue to struggle -- for example, fertilizer imports are still banned and fishermen cannot fish more than three nautical miles from shore, according to BBC.

Things have gotten so bad there that a recent UN report warned it will no longer be "a liveable place" by 2020. 

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/middle-east/israel-and-palestine/121020/estelle-gaza-bound-aid-boat-blocked-is