Gaza ‘Freedom Flotilla’ blocked in Turkey after being denied use of 2 ships

Organizers say African nation Guinea-Bissau withdrew its flagged vessels, blame Israeli pressure on the country

File: The Akdeniz RoRo, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, is loaded with goods as it is anchored in Tuzla seaport, near Istanbul on April 19, 2024. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)
File: The Akdeniz RoRo, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, is loaded with goods as it is anchored in Tuzla seaport, near Istanbul on April 19, 2024. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

A “Freedom Flotilla” aimed at delivering aid to Gaza without Israeli coordination or approval was blocked in Turkey Saturday after being denied use of two of its ships, which organizers blamed on Israeli pressure.

The coalition of NGOs and other associations said it was unable to set sail after the West African country of Guinea-Bissau withdrew its flagged vessels.

“Sadly, Guinea-Bissau has allowed itself to become complicit in Israel’s deliberate starvation, illegal siege and genocide of Palestinians in Gaza,” the Freedom Flotilla Coalition said.

“The Guinea-Bissau International Ships Registry (GBISR), in a blatantly political move, informed the Freedom Flotilla Coalition that it had withdrawn the Guinea-Bissau flag from two of the Freedom Flotilla’s ships, one of which is our cargo ship, already loaded with over 5,000 tons of life-saving aid,” their statement said.

Security officials in Israel have been preparing for the arrival of the first ships from the flotilla.

The effort to reach Gaza in ships carrying hundreds of tons of humanitarian aid is being spearheaded by the Turkish IHH Humanitarian Relief Foundation, which is attempting to break the naval blockade maintained by Israel on Gaza to prevent the Hamas terror group from rearming itself.

The group said the Guinea-Bissau authorities made several “extraordinary” requests for information, including destinations, potential additional port calls, cargo manifest, and estimated arrival dates and times.

“Normally, national flagging authorities concern themselves only with safety and related standards on vessels bearing their flag,” it said, equating it to being asked about destinations when registering a car.

File: A sailor is seen on the ramp of the Akdeniz RoRo, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, as it waits to depart from the Tuzla seaport, near Istanbul on April 19, 2024. (Yasin Akgul/AFP)

At an Istanbul press conference, about 280 volunteers — activists, lawyers and doctors — who had hoped to join the ships shouted slogans including “Flag the flotilla,” “We will sail” and “Free Palestine.”

Three of the flotilla’s ships have been docked for a week at the port of Tuzla, south of Istanbul. They had planned to set sail Friday.

Turkish authorities and state media, who are generally keen to boast about the aid they have provided to Palestinian civilians in Gaza having organized 13 humanitarian flights and nine boats, have been silent about the flotilla.

In 2010, a previous “Freedom Flotilla” set off from the southern Turkish city of Antalya, leading to a deadly episode that soured relations between Turkey and Israel after Israeli military forces raided one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, leaving 10 dead and 28 wounded aboard in violence that ensued. Ten Israeli soldiers were wounded.

United Nations agencies have warned that maritime deliveries alone cannot deliver sufficient aid to ward off the threat of famine in Gaza, and have called on Israel to open up more border crossings for road convoys.

Israel massively stepped up aid efforts to the territory in recent weeks, Jerusalem and Washington have said. The United States is also building a special offshore pier that will facilitate the delivery of large amounts of aid to the Strip.

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