Gaza Freedom Flotilla to sail from Turkey with aid

Coalition of groups aim to deliver more than 5,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies to Gaza

Members of the Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief Foundation on the Akdeniz RoRo ship in Istanbul, Turkey, on April 15. EPA
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A humanitarian aid flotilla organised by a coalition of activists is planning to set sail from Turkey on Friday to deliver supplies to Gaza.

The Freedom Flotilla, a coalition of 12 rights activists groups, is aiming to sail from a port near the Turkish city of Istanbul and deliver more than 5,000 tonnes of humanitarian supplies to the besieged strip.

“We have completed all technical and crewing requirements in order to launch the Freedom Flotilla to Gaza on Friday, April 26, 2024,” the group said in a statement.

Organisers have not specified the route they will take to reach the besieged enclave, or how they plan to bypass Israel’s military, which controls Gaza’s land and sea borders.

“We will be going from international waters into Gaza’s territorial waters. We are not entering Israel’s waters and the people of Gaza want us there,” said Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian-American attorney and one of the flotilla’s organisers.

The flotilla will comprise three ships, including one cargo ship, a cruise ship, and another smaller boat, a Freedom Flotilla official told The National. It will carry about 800 people, including crew, activists and observers.

There is apparent disagreement over whether the flotilla requires permission from Turkish authorities to leave the country. The departure date, initially scheduled for mid-April, has been delayed at least once for unspecified reasons.

“We are working diligently to move our boats to a port in Istanbul where the paperwork procedures for hundreds of participants can be completed, to allow for boarding beginning on Friday morning,” the Freedom Flotilla statement added.

Activists involved in the campaign have said that under international law, they should not be subject to curbs by any government while delivering aid.

Turkish officials have remained silent about the mission and did not reply to multiple requests for comment.

Past events are likely playing a role in their hesitancy to vocally back the aid flotilla or state a position on permissions activists need to sail to Gaza from Turkish waters.

In 2010, nine Turkish citizens were killed after Israeli marines stormed a similar flotilla attempting to deliver aid to Gaza, sparking a diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey.

The two countries later repaired ties, but the relationship has soured since Hamas’ October 7 attacks and Israel’s subsequent Gaza operations. Although Turkey has restricted some exports, Israel remains a key trade partner for Ankara, as it struggles with a years-long economic crisis and a weakening currency.

The Freedom Flotilla campaign comes as governments and aid organisations internationally seek new routes to deliver aid to Gaza, where more than a million people have been internally displaced and at least 34,000 people have been killed by Israel’s military operations over the past six months.

The US military is building a giant floating pier to ease aid distribution to the besieged strip. Jordan and the US are also carrying out air drops following chronic delays in deliveries by land.

“The IDF will allow the entry of all humanitarian aid as it comes in every day from the air and crossings, as well the port of Ashdod,” the Israeli military press unit told The National. “Any other action will constitute a provocation that does not serve the entry of humanitarian aid."

Updated: April 25, 2024, 12:35 PM