Gaza’s ministry of interior has been making extensive preparations to receive the international ‘Freedom Flotilla’ aid convoy due to reach the Gaza Strip by the weekend. The convoy, laden with construction materials, medical equipment and schools supplies for the inhabitants of the Strip who have faced a devastating Israeli imposed embargo for almost four years now, aims to breach the Israeli siege by delivering these much needed humanitarian supplies as well as to draw the world’s attention to this ongoing atrocity.
Preparations in Gaza have included additional training for the marine police whose duty it will be to maintain security at the port and protection for the vessels in the event that they reach Gaza’s beach.
Israel previously warned that they would not permit the convoy to dock in Gaza and the Israeli navy has received instructions to intercept the fleet at Gaza’s shore. It is expected that the ships will not retreat and a military confrontation at sea may ensue. The vessels are thought to carry up to 800 international peace activists.
Yesterday, Israel’s forum of seven senior ministers made the final decision to block the vessels and forcefully divert them if necessary while the activists on board will be arrested and deported.
Concerns have been raised over the potential crisis that looms should Israel attack the unarmed 9-ship fleet carrying humanitarian aid in international waters. Particularly given that one of the ships will be flying the flag of NATO member state Turkey. According to precedent, an attack on this vessel will constitute an attack on NATO.
In response to the international flotilla, an Israeli flotilla left the shores of Herzliya in Israel a week ago flying banners displaying photos of the captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit. In a similar vein, earlier this week, Israeli minister of Social Welfare, Yitzhak Herzog, asserted that Israel would only permit the fleet to reach Gaza in exchange for a vow to release Shalit.
Present discourse in Israel is focussed on media implications for its forceful interception of the fleet, particularly within western media, and the Israeli government has been thinking through strategies to offset any negative coverage.
MEMO Photographer: Mohammed Asad