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Planners originally talked of sending 15 vessels with up to 1,500 people in the flotilla this year, though that number has dwindled to several hundred activists and fewer than 10 boats.

In a statement, the Greek Foreign Ministry said it had banned the flotilla from sailing out of concern for “the protection and safety of human life,” while noting the need to lift the Gaza blockade and improve humanitarian conditions there.

Greece reiterates its willingness and proposes to undertake the task of transporting the humanitarian aid, with Greek vessels or other appropriate means, through the existing channels” in line with a U.N. request, the ministry said.

Members of the flotilla have accused Greece of succumbing to Israeli pressure to block their plans, which had been held up by administrative delays and legal entanglements prior to the ban on sailing.

Greece, keen to boost international investment and ease its financial crisis, has maintained close relations with Arab countries, but in recent years it has forged closer military and economic ties with Israel. The shift came amid a deterioration in the Jewish state’s ties with Turkey, Greece’s traditional regional rival and a fierce critic of the three-week Gaza offensive launched in late 2008 by the Israeli military.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu singled out Greece last week when he praised a group of foreign countries for helping to block the flotilla. In a speech, he thanked “my friend, the Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou.”

On Sunday, Mr. Papandreou’s office said he had communicated with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who expressed support for the Greek government’s proposal to transport the activists’ aid to Gaza, which would require Israeli cooperation.

Mr. Abbas’ Fatah Party and Hamas have been trying to end a four-year rift that left the Palestinians with two rival governments in the West Bank and Gaza.

Robert Naiman, an American activist, dismissed the Greek offer as an attempt by Greece to deflect criticism over its ban on the flotilla departure.

Amy Teibel contributed to this article from Jerusalem.