JERUSALEM – Three Israeli naval ships were tailing a Gaza-bound aid boat today just a few dozen miles (kilometers) from the blockaded Palestinian territory, a pro-Palestinian activist told The Associated Press.

The group that sent the ship said it had lost contact with the vessel, but the Israeli military said it had not taken it over.

The activists’ latest attempt to crack the blockade will test Israel’s resolve as it faces a wave of international outrage over its deadly takeover of another aid ship earlier this week.

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 Mideast tensions as the U.S. makes a new push for regional peace.

Shortly after 5 a.m. Israel time, Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza movement, which sent the 1,200-ton Rachel Corrie, said the vessel was 35 miles (56 kilometers) from Gaza’s shores.

“There were two warships in the back of them … and a smaller boat was approaching,” Berlin said from the movement’s headquarters in Cyprus, citing a passenger on board.

Israeli troops still had not boarded the Rachel Corrie nearly two hours later, when it was 25 miles (40 kilometers) from Gaza, off the coast of Egypt, said Free Gaza’s lawyer, Audrey Bomse. Shortly after, the Free Gaza office in Cyprus lost contact with the ship, Berlin said.

At 8:10 a.m. local time, an Israeli military spokeswoman told the AP that initial radio contact had been made with the ship, requesting identification of the vessel and its intentions — normal maritime procedure. She said warnings or a request to divert to the southern Israeli port of Ashdod had not been made. She spoke on condition of anonymity because she was not authorized by the military to give her name.

A more senior military spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, said the ship had not been taken over or intercepted.

Activists on board the Irish boat, including a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, have insisted they would not resist if Israeli soldiers tried to take over their vessel. They rejected Israeli and U.S. appeals to bring the ship to an Israeli port instead.

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