Turkey’s Freedom Flotilla Ready To Set Sail For Gaza

An international humanitarian relief effort in the form of a Freedom Flotilla Coalition was getting ready Friday to leave the western Turkish port of Tuzla and bring much-needed relief to residents of war-torn Gaza.

At least three vessels carrying some 5,000 tons of food, drinking water and medical aid were awaiting the green light from Turkish authorities to set sail from the port on the Sea of Marmara, south of Istanbul, organisers said.

Some 280 activists, rights campaigners, lawyers and doctors from more than 30 countries including the United States, Britain, Canada, Norway, Spain, Malaysia and Germany have joined the mission to Gaza.

The territory has been under Israeli blockade and bombardment since October 7, when Hamas militants launched an assault on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli official figures.

Israel’s retaliatory offensive has killed at least 34,012 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, the territory’s health ministry said on Friday.

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Organisers have told reporters they are demanding a guarantee of free passage and an immediate ceasefire in Gaza.

Retired US army colonel and retired US State Department official Ann Wright — now a peace activist who resigned from the State Department in protest at the 2002 US-led invasion of Iraq — argued that any attempt to stop the flotilla would be unlawful.

“The siege of Gaza is illegal — it’s a form of collective punishment which is a war crime,” she said, saying Gazans were enduring “unimaginable” suffering.

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“We demand the world ensure our safety to deliver the much needed (aid) to our brothers and sisters in Gaza.”

“We have been attempting for years to challenge Israel’s illegal closure of Gaza via the sea,” said activist and lawyer Huwaida Arraf.

“As Israel’s siege is illegal, any attempt by Israel to attack our flotilla or to otherwise intercept or stop our ships will be unlawful,” Arraf added.

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Another campaigner, Malaysian gynaecologist obstetrician Dr Fauziah Mohd Hasan, told reporters there were more than 50,000 pregnant women in Gaza being suffering from the conditions there.

She cited a UN report published Friday that flagged the intentional destruction of complex and hard-to-obtain medical equipment in Gaza’s beleaguered hospitals and maternity wards.

“We know that women have undergone Caesarean section without anaesthesia,” she said.

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“They are suffering a lot of complications, they deliver prematurely, small babies and they cannot breastfeed them due to stress.”

The flotilla has undertaken several previous aid efforts for Gaza, under the umbrellas of the Free Gaza Movement group and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief.

Wright referred to a 2010 effort, where eight cargo ships with some 700 people aboard tried to break an Israeli naval blockade.

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That ended in a violent standoff during which 10 activists were killed and several others wounded, including 10 soldiers, after Israeli naval commandos boarded vessels.

Israeli-Turkish relations were strained as a result, with full diplomatic ties only restored in August 2022.

On Friday a ninth vessel sent by the Turkish government arrived at the Egyptian port of El-Arish carrying 3,774 tons of humanitarian aid for Palestinians.


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