Turkey-Based Organization Prepares to Send Flotilla to Gaza

Latest Developments

An assembly of international organizations announced on February 10 that it seeks to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza by sending a flotilla of humanitarian aid. The assembly, known as the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, aims to ship thousands of tons of international aid to Gaza, according to Zahir Birawi, an influential coalition member allegedly with strong ties to Hamas.

Israel has already facilitated the transfer of record amounts of aid to Gaza. Nevertheless, the two-ship flotilla should be ready to sail from Lebanon and Libya in early March. The headquarters of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which supports Hamas and is outlawed by Israel, hosted the press conference in Istanbul, where the coalition — which includes IHH — made the announcement. The IHH previously sent a flotilla of six ships with aid to Gaza in 2010, leading to a violent confrontation with Israeli forces on one of the vessels at sea.

Expert Analysis

“Sending a new flotilla is indicative of Ankara’s close ties to Hamas. The organizers of the flotilla have close ties to the terrorist group, and in the event the flotilla reaches its destination, Israeli authorities should exercise extreme caution by searching the contents of the ‘aid’ to ensure there are no dual-use materials that could be used to manufacture weapons for Hamas. Turkey’s main mission in this conflict is to support Hamas’s terrorist cause and little to do with humanitarian relief.” — Sinan Ciddi, FDD Non-Resident Senior Fellow

“The planned flotilla highlights Turkey’s support for Hamas and the overlap between pro-Palestinian activism and terrorism. Zahir Birawi, a Hamas activist according to Israel, is preparing for what amounts to an assault on Israel’s naval blockade of Hamas-controlled Gaza. This turned deadly in 2010, when Turkish activists, in a campaign Birawi helped organize, attacked Israeli soldiers. It could prove deadly again this time.” — David May, FDD Research Manager and Senior Research Analyst

Reminiscent of Mavi Marmara

Israel-Turkey relations deteriorated in 2010 following an armed skirmish aboard the largest ship in the flotilla organized by IHH — the Turkish-owned vessel known as the Mavi Marmara. Reportedly, Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara to search for military aid and opened fire when some Turkish activists onboard attacked them with clubs, knives, and a gun. Ten Turks died from the exchange. While the incident sparked international outrage, the 2011 Palmer Report issued by the United Nations found Israel’s naval blockade was a legitimate form of self-defense. In 2013, Turkey agreed to end legal action against the Israeli officers involved in the incident.

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