Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas said Saturday the flotilla carrying aid and activists to Gaza is a victory for his government and signals the end of the Israeli naval blockade, whether it reaches its destination or is intercepted by the Israeli navy.

"If the ships reach Gaza, it's a victory for Gaza," Haniyeh told some 400 supporters after touring Gaza City's small fishing harbor, where several smaller vessels breaking the blockade have docked in the past. "If they are intercepted and terrorized by the Zionists, it will be a victory for Gaza, too, and they will move again in new ships to break the siege of Gaza."

The flotilla was still held up in Cyprus on Saturday. The flotilla organizers were negotiating with the authorities of Turkish Cyprus to allow 25 European Parliament members and a Holocaust survivor to board through a Turkish-controlled port in the north of the island, following a refusal by the Republic of Cyprus.

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Republic of Cyprus authorities said the decision was made to protect the island's "vital interests" — including economic ties with Israel.

Some ship captains of the flotilla were detained shortly overnight for trying to get the legislators on board in contravention of the Republic of Cyprus’s instructions, but had been released on Saturday, according to Israel Radio

The flotilla was to set sail toward Gaza on Saturday afternoon, in any event, and approach the territory on Sunday, about 24 hours behind schedule, said Greta Berlin, one of the activists.

Mechanical problems forced the flotilla to shrink from eight ships to five.

A showdown with the Israeli navy appeared inevitable. Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, reiterated Saturday that the ships would be intercepted, denouncing the sea convoy as a provocation and violation of maritime laws. Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza after the Islamic militant Hamas seized the territory by force three years ago.

Israel has said it is determined to intercept and search the vessels, then tow them to an Israeli port.

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