Two boats departed Turkey on Wednesday for the Gaza Strip in a surprise move to challenge the Israeli embargo on the Hamas-controlled region.
"Freedom Wave to Gaza" includes the Canadian ship Tahrir and the Irish ship Saoirse, two boats that planned to take part of the failed Freedom Flotilla 2 in July. The boats are currently in international waters and plan to reach the territorial waters of Gaza within a few days.
The two boats trying this time carry a total of 27 passengers including activists and journalists from the United States, Canada, Ireland, Australia, Germany and other countries. Activists have been preparing for the flotilla for months without drawing media attention. The group declared that their stated destination was a port in northern Cyprus in order to avoid putting Turkey "in a spot," according to one activist.
"The Palestinians living in Gaza want solidarity not charity, and have made it clear to the world that their primary demand is for freedom. While humanitarian aid is helpful, Gazans are still prisoners with no freedom of movement," one of the Canadian organizers said in a statement today.
The Israeli navy said it is monitoring the vessels and it will offer the ships to dock and unload at the Israeli port of Ashdod or an Egyptian port. "In any case, we will not let them reach Gaza. The naval blockade is legal and was even recently approved by the Palmer committee. This is an incident that is intended mainly to draw media attention," a senior defense official said Wednesday.
The May, 2010 Freedom Flotilla drew international media attention when leaders of the IHH-owned Mavi Marmara ship launched a premeditated attack on Israeli commandos. Following repeated warnings, Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara and were immediately attacked by activists wielding knives, axes, clubs hammers and other weapons. The encounter claimed the lives of nine passengers.
An Israeli source said "We're not aware of any IHH presence" on the ships.
Canadian Immigration Minister Jason Kenney said Wednesday "We don't think that this kind of provocative approach is at all helpful," and "It doesn't serve anyone's interests." The July flotilla attempt that was blocked from sailing to the Gaza Strip from Greece was condemned by the United Nations, the European Union, the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and at least five countries, including the United States.