Antalya: Defying strict warnings from Israel, the largest-ever naval convoy will embark from Turkey's southern Antalya port on Wednesday in the ninth attempt by international activists to break Israel's illegal siege and deliver aid to Gaza.
Gulf News has a seat on the ‘Freedom Flotilla', consisting of nine vessels carrying 800 passengers, including international activists and journalists, and 10,000 tonnes of aid.
Israel has issued strict warnings and even threatened to fire upon the convoy. Last week, Naor Gilon, deputy director general at Israel's foreign ministry, told ambassadors of Ireland, Greece, Turkey and Sweden that the mission is "a provocation and a breach of Israeli law".
Gilon added that "Israel has no intention of allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza". Half of Israel's navy has reportedly been conducting exercises in preparation to stop the flotilla.
The flotilla is expected to arrive in Gaza on FrIday. Ameen Abu Rashid, the founding member of the European campaign to end the siege on Gaza, said a contingency plan is in place should the Israeli navy intercept the flotilla. This includes filing lawsuits in European courts as well as demonstrations before Israeli embassies, according to reports.
Since Israel enforced a naval blockade following its war on Gaza, no attempt at delivering aid to the strip via the sea has been successful. In December 2009, Israeli naval boats rammed into and caused significant damage to a ship carrying aid.
The World Health Organisation has demanded that Israel end the siege on the strip "immediately", saying that it was causing a shortage of medicines.
The first and only successful attempt to break the naval blockade on Gaza was in August 2008 by the Free Gaza Movement when 44 people from 17 countries sailed from Cyprus on two small boats and were welcomed by thousands of Palestinians on the shore.
Activist Yvonne Ridley, who was on that mission, told Gulf News that the experience was akin to the "fall of the Berlin Wall".
Israel withdrew its troops and dismantled colonies on the Gaza Strip in September 2005, but has failed to convince the international community that its occupation of the territory has ended. Israel has vowed to stop the flotilla by any means necessary, but under what legal pretext it aims to do so is unclear.
Israeli flags, tanks and colonists may have ended their presence on the Strip, but Israel continues to control Gaza's borders, airspace and territorial waters. The United Nations and the international community continue to consider the strip to be occupied by Israel, along with the West Bank and occupied East Jerusalem.
Do you think the convoy will be successful in breaking the siege? Will Israel stop them from entering? Will this attempt be successful in highlighting the plight of Gazans?