3 ships in initial flotilla with aid, thousands of passengers

Israel braces for ‘Freedom Flotilla’ set to sail from Turkey to Gaza

TV report says Israeli officials hope departure of convoy that aims to break Israeli blockade of Hamas-run enclave will be indefinitely postponed, after several delays already

Photo of the Mavi Marmara docked while returning to Istanbul on December 26, 2010. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici, File)
Photo of the Mavi Marmara docked while returning to Istanbul on December 26, 2010. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici, File)

Security officials in Israel have been preparing for the arrival of the first ships from the so-called Freedom Flotilla Coalition, which is expected to depart Turkey in the coming days in an attempt to reach the shores of Gaza and disrupt maritime trade amid Israel’s war with Hamas.

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 initial flotilla will comprise three ships, two of which will hold humanitarian aid while the third will carry thousands of passengers including aid workers and press members, according to Reuters. At a later stage, additional ships will depart from elsewhere in the region to join them and expand the flotilla, the IHH said in a statement published online.

The purpose of the flotilla is to “put the genocide in Gaza firmly on the agenda of international decision-makers and states, and to create a strong initiative to end the Israeli aggression and lift the embargo on the territory,” the organization stated.

In addition to the IHH, groups based in the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and New Zealand were also among those set to participate in the upcoming flotilla.

According to an unsourced report Thursday evening from Channel 12 news, Israeli officials hope the flotilla, which has already been delayed several times, will be postponed indefinitely.

In this May 31, 2010 file photo, the Mavi Marmara ship, the lead boat of a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip which was stormed by Israeli naval commandos in a predawn confrontation, sails into the port of Ashdod, Israel. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit, File)

Speaking to Reuters on Thursday, human rights lawyer and pro-Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf said she was joining the flotilla “to attempt to deliver this aid and to directly challenge the siege in hopes of breaking it.”

“We understand that Israel might attack us… With all eyes on our ships, we hope that Israel will decide not to. But if they do, again, people on board will be trained in nonviolent resistance,” said Arraf, a Palestinian-American.

The planned departure of the flotilla comes almost 14 years after a similar mission organized by IHH, which Israel has designated a terror group.

In May 2010, the Gaza Freedom Flotilla tried to breach the maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip but was intercepted by the Israeli Navy. After the convoy refused Israeli Navy orders to reroute to Ashdod, Israeli commandos boarded one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying over 600 passengers. After being met with violent resistance, the commandos opened fire and killed 10 Turkish activists. Ten Israeli soldiers were wounded during the attack.

The diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey that ensued after the Mavi Marmara incident was only solved in 2016, when Jerusalem agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the victims and to allow Turkish aid into Gaza – and in return, Istanbul agreed not to hold any individual Israeli nationals criminally or financially liable for the incident.

Palestinians waving national flags wait aboard small boats off the port of Gaza City on May 30, 2010, to greet the so-called ‘Freedom Flotilla.’ (MAHMUD HAMS / AFP)

The blockade on Gaza was imposed by Israel in 2007, shortly after Hamas took control of the coastal enclave, and enforced in cooperation with neighboring Egypt to prevent the terror group from rearming and becoming an even greater menace after it repeatedly declared its intention to destroy Israel.

Despite the blockade, Hamas managed to acquire weaponry and funding, thanks mainly to Iranian and Qatari support, and to fire rockets at Israeli towns and cities on a regular basis, causing skirmishes which on repeated occasions escalated into protracted conflict.

Hamas’s attacks on Israel culminated in its October 7 onslaught on southern Israel, when Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border and killed some 1,200 people, most of them civilians, rampaging through communities in southern Israel and mowing down partygoers at a music festival. The terrorists also kidnapped some 253 people to Gaza, where around 129 are still held hostage.

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