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Organizers say Gaza aid flotilla stranded in Turkey under Israeli pressure

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A flotilla of ships set to bring humanitarian aid to the Palestinian enclave of Gaza, which is currently under an Israeli blockade, was unable to leave Turkey as planned on Friday due to what organizers described as an “administrative roadblock” resulting from pressure from Tel Aviv.

Israel launched a military campaign on the Gaza Strip in retaliation for an unprecedented Hamas incursion on October 7 that resulted in an estimated 1,200 deaths and 250 hostages being taken to Gaza.

According to the latest data received from Gaza’s health ministry, Israeli strikes across Gaza have resulted in the death of at least 34,388 people and injured 74,437 more.

The Gaza Strip has been under Israeli blockade for 17 years.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition is carrying over 5,500 tons of aid, including medical supplies and food, in response to the ongoing humanitarian crisis in the region.

The organizers of the flotilla, a coalition of international and Turkish humanitarian groups, said on Thursday Israel has pressured the Republic of Guinea-Bissau to withdraw its flag from its lead ship, the Akdeniz, prompting a request for an additional inspection by the flag state.

The mission carries risks, as a similar attempt in 2010 resulted in a confrontation with Israeli forces that led to the death of 10 people. The Mavi Marmara aid flotilla was attacked in international waters on May 31, 2010.

Nine Turkish citizens and an American citizen of Turkish descent were killed in the raid. The Mavi Marmara incident sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel as then-prime minister and current president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan used the issue extensively as a political tool in domestic rallies.

The two countries made a deal that was ratified by the Turkish Parliament in August 2016. The families of the victims were offered compensation in the amount of $20 million, which was harshly criticized by the opposition in Turkey given how much Erdoğan has capitalized on the issue.

A few months after the deal, İstanbul’s 7th High Criminal Court dismissed a case against the Israeli officers blamed for the raid on the flotilla.

Erdoğan, who accused Israel of “state terrorism” the day after the raid, criticized the organizers of the flotilla during a public gathering six years later in 2016, saying, “Did you ask the prime minister of the time before you embarked on a humanitarian mission from Turkey to Gaza? We have already provided the necessary assistance to Gaza, and we continue to do so.”

The leaders of the new flotilla, including Ann Wright of US Boat to Gaza, emphasize the need to break the naval blockade of Gaza and open the border of Rafah to allow in aid. They acknowledge that the aid being delivered will only be a small portion of what is needed but hope it will pave the way for further assistance.

Gallia Lindenstrauss, an analyst with the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, notes that the mission carries risks due to regional tensions. However, she believes that both the Israeli and Turkish sides will exercise caution to avoid escalation.

The flotilla’s leaders are seeking international support and protection to facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

UN experts on Friday urged Israel to allow safe passage for the flotilla.

President Erdoğan has not commented on the mission but met with Hamas’s political leader Ismail Haniyeh last week, which Israel has condemned.

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