The expedition set sail aboard two ships from Puerto Williams, 2300 kms south of Santiago. "They were to leave on Friday, but decided to take advantage of calm seas late on Thursday," an official at the port city told reporters. 

The explorers set out to show that peace and cooperation is possible between Israelis and Palestinians as they sail and climb an Antarctic mountain. 

The effort caught the attention of UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the Dalai Lama, German parliament leader Wolfgang Thierse, Nobel Peace laureates Mikhail Gorbachev and Shimon Peres, and Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat, all of whom sent them messages of support. 

The teams

The Palestinian group is made up of Olfat Haidar, an Israeli-born physical education teacher, Ziad Darwish, a journalist who lives in Jerusalem and whose brother died during an air raid on Beruit in 1982. 

Rounding off the Palestinian team are Nasir Quass, a soccer coach who in 1988 was sentenced to three years in an Israeli prison for belonging to the Fatah movement, and Suleiman al-Khatib, a political activist who at 14 years of age was sentenced to a decade in prison for attacking Israeli soldiers.

The Israeli team includes Hezkel Nathaniel, a businessman living in Germany and sponsor of the adventure, Doron Erel, the expedition's only experienced mountain climber whose parents survived Nazi concentration camps, Yarden Fanta, an Ethiopian-born woman who immigrated to Israel at 14, and Avihu Shoshani, a lawyer and former special forces commando.  

Various nationalities

The eight explorers are joined by 12 persons of varying nationalities, including the crews of the two sailboats - the 16-metre Pelagic and the 23-metre Pelagic Australis, mountain guides and journalists, who are on hand to record the event. 

If the weather holds, the expedition expects to cross Drake
Passage in one week and reach Deception Island, its first stop on the Antartic Peninsula. 

The team will then sail along the Antartic coastline to Crystal
Sound, where they will strike their main camp. From there, they will hike 30 kms to a 2000-metre mountain which they plan to climb and name in a ceremony on its summit.