The departure from Turkey of a flotilla delivering humanitarian aid to the besieged Gaza Strip has been delayed, amid an “administrative roadblock” initiated by Israel, organisers said.

The Freedom Flotilla of three ships, which aims to deliver more than 5,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid to the Strip, was due to leave Istanbul on Friday.

However, Israeli authorities requested extra checks that will delay its departure by several days.

The coalition of activists behind the aid flotilla also said Israel asked the Republic of Guinea Bissau to withdraw its flag from the Akdeniz, a passenger ship that is part of the flotilla.

A ship inspector was on board the Akdeniz – which translates to Mediterranean in Turkish – carrying out checks at Guinea Bissau’s request, following the Israeli demand, Huwaida Arraf, a lead organiser of the flotilla, told The National.

“This triggered a request for an additional inspection, this one by the flag state, that delays our April 26 planned departure,” she said.

Ms Arraf, a Palestinian-American human rights lawyer, expected the flotilla would still be able to sail.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry declined to comment.

“Unfortunately the Freedom Flotilla has been delayed for another 48 hours at least. It’s a setback, but not surprising given the nature of our trip,” John Hurson, an activist planning to join the flotilla, wrote on X.

Pro-Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf, a lead organiser of the flotilla, expects it will still be able to sail despite delays. Reuters
Pro-Palestinian activist Huwaida Arraf, a lead organiser of the flotilla, expects it will still be able to sail despite delays. Reuters

The Akdeniz was inspected six months ago by a ship surveyor and surpassed the required standards, Ms Arraf added. The inspection would take a whole day, she estimated.

If the vessel does not pass this check, organisers must find another flag to sail the ship. This would further delay the flotilla’s departure by an unspecified period of time, she said.

The three ships aim to deliver about 5,500 tonnes of aid, including food, formula milk for babies, water, blankets, and feminine hygiene products to Gaza. The flotilla will also carry about 800 people, including crew, activists, and human rights observers.

Israel controls the Gaza Strip’s land and sea borders – a move that is widely considered illegal under international law. Israel denies that it is an occupying power in the Palestinian enclave.

Humanitarian organisations have complained of chronic delays to aid deliveries by land to Gaza, where hunger is widespread and health authorities have reported dozens of deaths due to malnutrition.

More than 34,300 people have been killed in the enclave since Israel’s latest military offensive prompted by the Hamas-led October 7 attacks on Israel, which killed about 1,200.

If the ships are able to leave Turkey, the Freedom Flotilla organisers have not specified exactly how they plan to deliver the aid to Gaza.

“We are challenging the blockade [of Gaza] and peacefully approaching its waters,” Ms Arraf said. “If they [Israel] want to stop us, they will have to do it by force.”

The Israeli military’s foreign press unit previously told The National that they do not block aid deliveries to Gaza but “any other action” would represent a “a provocation that does not serve the entry of humanitarian aid.”

An activist-organised aid delivery by sea previously prompted a deep diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey, perhaps explaining why Ankara has not vocally backed the current mission. In 2010, nine Turkish citizens were killed after Israeli marines stormed a similar flotilla attempting to deliver aid to Gaza.

Source: The National News

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