Israel on Wednesday reportedly sent home two of the 21 people taken aboard a ship that attempted to break through a blockade and deliver supplies to Gaza.
Authorities released an American filmmaker and a Danish human rights activist, according to freegaza.org, the web site of the Free Gaza Movement, which organized the voyage opposing the blockade.
The other passengers remain in Israeli custody, among them former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and 1977 Nobel Peace Prize recipient Mairead Maguire, who co-founded a group that worked for peace in Northern Ireland.
It is the second time that McKinney, a former Green Party candidate for president who twice served in the U.S. House of Representatives, has been aboard a ship that encountered Israeli forces while trying to reach Gaza.
An Israeli naval vessel and a small boat carrying supplies for the Free Gaza Movement collided last December.
Activists vowed Wednesday to continue to defy the blockade around Gaza.
“We are definitely going to go [back] even if we have to paddle across,” Greta Berlin, a Free Gaza Movement spokeswoman, told reporters in Cyprus.
On Wednesday, groups including the Green Party and the Council on American-Islamic Relations, as well as users of social networking tools like Twitter urged the Obama administration and the State Department to press Israel to release the detained passengers.
Spokesman Darby Holladay said the U.S. embassy has been in touch with Israeli authorities. “We understand that the passengers are safe and accounted for,” he said.
Israeli naval forces on Tuesday intercepted the Greek-registered Arion in the Mediterranean Sea 23 miles off the Gaza coast.
The Free Gaza Movement contends the ship was carrying humanitarian aid. The organization had renamed the ship Spirit of Humanity and refers to it by that name on its web site.
Gaza has been under Israeli blockade since 2007, when Hamas gained control of the government. The Free Gaza Movement has breached the blockade five times since August 2008.
Israeli diplomatic officials said the ship was rerouted to the port of Ashdod. Its cargo was to be delivered to Gaza by road after a security inspection.
Material from Reuters is included in this report.