New Turkish Humanitarian Flotilla Set to Defy Gaza Blockade

Mavi Marmara protest
A Palestinian man holds a Palestinian flag as activists ride a boat during a rally ahead of the 4th anniversary of the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident. Mohammed Salem/Reuters

Turkish aid organisation the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) will attempt to send a humanitarian convoy to Gaza by sea in spite of Israel's naval blockade, they have announced.

The organisation, part of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition said that representatives from 12 countries had met in Istanbul over the weekend and would send ships loaded with humanitarian aid to the Gaza strip "in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza", in a statement emailed to Reuters.

The coalition will hold a press conference to announce the details of the convoy's departure after a final meeting on Tuesday.

The coalition issued a press release last month saying that it would be launching a humanitarian campaign to Gaza by sea called "Gaza's Ark", in spite of Israel's naval blockade of the region.

"We hereby announce that we are planning another flotilla in the near future, to challenge the blockade of Gaza , with participants from around the world," a press release from the Freedom Flotilla Coalition.

The coalition will attempt to breach the blockade without military assistance, insisting they have "not asked for military escort, have no intention to, and will not sail with a military escort".

Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have maintained a naval blockade on the Gaza strip since 2007. Khaled Mashal, leader of Palestinian leading party Hamas told AFP on Sunday his movement's final goal was ensuring "the Gaza Strip exist without a blockade."

The international coalition was formed after the Israeli Defence Forces attacked the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel of a Turkish humanitarian mission in 2010, killing nine Turkish activists.

After the incident IDF sources told the Jerusalem Post that "despite the unfortunate outcome" they would continue to use similar means to prevent any vessel from breaching the blockade on the Gaza strip.

Rhetoric from the Turkish government has strongly condemned Israel's offensive in Gaza, with newly elected president Recep Tayyip Erdogan previously calling it a "genocide".

"If the flotilla gets through then the Israeli blockade is effectively over," Dr. Ahron Bregman, Israel specialist and writer of Cursed Victory: History of Israel and the Occupied Territories told Newsweek. "The Israelis regard the blockade on Gaza as a bargaining chip to force the hand of Hamas so that they stop firing rockets."

"I'll be very surprised if the IDF allows the new international flotilla to get into Gaza, given that in ceasefire talks in Egypt they show no flexibility whatsoever in allowing the Gazans to have a sea port, or free access from the sea," Dr. Bergman added.

"What the IDF will do is block the flotilla - physically or otherwise, and at the same time allow in humanitarian relief through their controlled gates." The IDF did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the flotilla, but have previously described the IHH as an extremist organisation.

Meanwhile, a petition demanding the UK foreign secretary send a 100-bed Royal Navy nautical hospital to the Gaza Strip attracted over 60 000 signatures. A small team of medics from the UK's National Health Service has already been sent, but activists said that this would "barely scratch the surface".