Flotilla carrying Gaza wounded set for bid to break Israeli siege

Two boats aim to defy the Israeli blockade as thousands of Palestinians wounded by the Israeli snipers in recent protests struggle for help.

Two boats are set to sail from the Gaza Strip in a bid to break an Israeli-imposed 11-year siege which has prevented medical supplies from getting into the coastal enclave and patients from leaving.

Scheduled to set off on Tuesday morning, the vessels will attempt to carry a group of approximately 30 people, including protesters wounded in weeks-long demonstrations along the Gaza Strip fence with Israel.

Palestinians have been rallying since March 30 to call for the right of return for refugees to the homes and villages they were forcibly expelled from in 1948. Israeli forces have killed at least 120 Palestinians in the coastal enclave and wounded at least 13,000 people since the protests began.

Alaa Al-Battah, a member of the flotilla’s organising committee, said the sailing of the boats “is part of our efforts to peacefully resist and break the siege on Gaza.

“It is also a continuation of the demonstrations for the right of return of Palestinians,” he added.

Salah Abdul-Ati, one of the organisers in Gaza, told reporters on Sunday that the “trip will carry the hopes and dreams of the Palestinian people for freedom”. 

Abul-Ati appealed to the international community to pressure Israel into lifting the blockade and on international NGOs to provide protection for the flotilla.

The names of the participants have been kept from the media to ensure their protection against potential Israeli aggression, Al-Battah told Al Jazeera. 

“Everyone on board will be a civilian,” said Adham Abu Salima, also a member of the organising committee.

Among those on board will be people wounded by Israeli forces during the recent protests, others suffering from long-term conditions, including cancer patients, as well as students with university places.

‘Shed light on suffering’

Organisers said they feared Israel, which bans fishing beyond six nautical miles (11 kilometres) off the coast and regularly fires at boats that exceed that limit, will try to stop the boats from leaving Gaza – as it has done in the past.

According to Al-Battah, Israeli forces have, over the past three weeks, attacked two boats which the committee had intended to use for the initiative.

“We planned to set two boats off but they were both targeted and destroyed by Israel. Now, we have small boats with quite a limited capacity,” he said.

The bid on Tuesday will coincide with the eighth anniversary of an Israeli attack on the Turkish Mavi Marmara flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists were killed when the Israeli navy attacked the vessel in international waters. A 10th activist died nearly four years later, succumbing to injuries sustained during the raid.

The incident served to cause a political crisis between Turkey and Israel, which ended with Israel offering an apology and compensating families of the victims.

“There have been many flotillas trying to bring aid to Gazans, but this time, the boats will be setting off from Gaza to the outside world,” Al-Battah said.

“Our goal is to shed light on the suffering of Gazans and to send out a message to the world that we have a right to our land, sea and ports,” he added.