Activists will try to break the sea blockade of the Gaza Strip in journey dismissed by Israel as a “publicity stunt”.
Activists aboard a flotilla of boats are set to sail for Gaza in a fresh bid to break Israel’s blockade of the territory, five years after a similar attempt ended in a deadly raid by Israeli soldiers.
Preparations were under way on Wednesday for the so-called Freedom Flotilla III, a convoy of ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists, at least one European Parliament member and an Arab-Israeli MP.
Al Jazeera has learned that the activists could set sail to Gaza as early as Friday.
Their campaign comes as Israel faces international pressure over its actions in Gaza, with a UN report released on Monday saying both Israel and Palestinian armed groups may have committed war crimes during last year’s conflict in the besieged coastal enclave.
Israel’s blockade of the territory dates to 2006, after Hamas won the Palestinian legislative elections, and was tightened a year later when Hamas consolidated control of Gaza.
“We’re not alone in considering the blockade to be inhumane and illegal,” Staffan Graner, an activist who is sailing aboard Swedish trawler, the Marianne of Gothenburg, told AFP news agency.
— Canada Boat to Gaza (@CanadaBoatGaza) June 24, 2015
The Marianne of Gothenburg, which set sail from Sicily on Friday, will join four other vessels carrying some 70 people en route to Gaza, according to a statement from the Platform of French NGOs for Palestine, an advocacy group supporting the effort.
Among those aboard will be former Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki, Spanish MEP Ana Maria Miranda Paza and Arab-Israeli politician Basel Ghattas, organisers said.
Ghattas’ decision to join the flotilla caused outrage in Israel.
On Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely said the flotilla was “the work of provocateurs whose aim is to blacken Israel’s face”.
In a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Ghattas wrote that “any form of takeover to prevent this will only involve Israel in yet another difficult international crisis or scandal”, he warned.
‘Violence would be stupid’
Ghattas was referring to the killing of 10 Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara after Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to break the Gaza blockade in May 2010.
Since then, several ships manned by pro-Palestinian activists have tried to reach the shores of Gaza, but they have all been repelled by the Israeli navy.
Activists in the Freedom Flotilla III are undeterred.
They say the international pressure Israel faces after the latest conflict in Gaza, along with the uproar the 2010 raid caused, make it unlikely it will use violence this time.
The International Criminal Court said last year that war crimes may have been committed in the 2010 raid – though the chief prosecutor decided that potential cases were not of “sufficient gravity” to justify further ICC action.
Israel has in recent weeks been on the defensive over actions during the 2014 July-August war, where the majority of the 2,200 Gazans killed were civilians.
Seventy-two Israelis were killed, 67 of them soldiers.
Some 100,000 Gazans remain homeless, with the reconstruction of tens of thousands of homes yet to begin. Israel’s ongoing blockade, now in its ninth year, has been blamed as well as a lack of international donor support.
Israel says more than 1.1 million tonnes of construction material have been allowed in since October 2014, along with food and other supplies.
Critics of the blockade have called for it to be fully lifted to allow reconstruction, warning that without it an ongoing humanitarian crisis could fuel further conflict.