JERUSALEM—The flotilla of boats heading for the Gaza Strip from various ports in Europe is expected to reach its destination within the next 24-48 hours, at least one day later than originally expected. However, due to an impasse with the Israeli government, it is uncertain whether the boats with several hundred passengers and about 10,000 tons of supplies for Gaza residents will reach its shore.
The nine ships, the smallest of which are yachts, are expected to reach the waters near the Gaza Strip either Sunday afternoon or Monday morning local time, according to the main organizers of the flotilla, Free Gaza Movement.
The Israeli government has repeatedly urged the flotilla participants to either turn back or transfer the goods aboard their ships to Gaza via Israeli authorities following a security search. The Israeli Defense Force (IDF) and the Israeli navy plan to conduct a joint operation to prevent the ships from ever docking in Gaza.
The government's plan includes issuing formal warnings telling the flotilla to stop advancing towards Gaza, and physically blocking the ships with naval vessels. If the warnings go unheeded, the Israeli navy says it will arrest the passengers, bring them to shore in Israel, and transfer them to the ministry of interior and immigration authorities, where they will be deported back to their countries. The ships contain approximately 700 activists from 40 countries, according to flotilla organizers.
Israel has also said that even without cooperation from flotilla organizers, it will seize the goods, put them through a security check, and then transfer them to the Gaza Strip.
The activists aboard the ships and the flotilla’s organizing entities have repeatedly emphasized that their primary goal is not to deliver aid, but to bring attention to the situation of the residents of Gaza, whom they say are suffering under too-tight Israeli security.
"We want to raise international awareness about the prison-like closure of the Gaza Strip and pressure the international community to review its sanctions policy and end its support for continued Israeli occupation," states the organization Free Gaza Movement on their website.
In an interview with The Epoch Times and in subsequent emails, one of the Free Gaza Movement's main organizers Greta Berlin also emphasized that the group is not on a mission to provide humanitarian aid, but to raise awareness.
Both sides have issued repeated warnings to one another since the ships set sail earlier this month.
In a move that has garnered a great deal of criticism inside Israel, flotilla organizers reportedly refused a request to deliver a letter and care package to imprisoned Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. Shalit was kidnapped by Hamas almost three years ago and is being held captive by Hamas in Gaza, where the International Red Cross can no longer visit him. His father asked the flotilla organizers to deliver the items on his behalf.
In a statement on Sunday, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon criticized the refusal and denied that the situation in Gaza is as severe as flotilla organizers are portraying it.
"There is no humanitarian crisis in Gaza," said Ayalon in an an earlier interview posted on the ministry's website. "If the flotilla had a genuine humanitarian goal, then its organizers should have transferred something for the abducted soldier Gilad Shalit as well."
The flotilla's organizers have also been linked to Hamas. A new report from the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, an Israel-based NGO, says that a main organizer has ties to Hamas.
According to the Center, a Turkish foundation called IHH, which is a major flotilla organizer, is a "Turkish humanitarian relief fund with a radical Islamic anti-Western orientation." The Center says that organization has "legitimate philanthropic activities," but that it supports radical Islamic networks, including Hamas.
If the number of rockets fired from the Gaza Strip into Israel in the past five months alone is any indicator, the Israeli government has legitimate cause for safety concerns over unchecked goods entering the Gaza.
Last Tuesday, a rocket from Gaza struck the Ashkelon Shore Regional Council building. The Israeli Air Force retaliated by striking what they call "terror tunnels" that run between the Gaza Strip and the outside world. Gilad Shalit was kidnapped by terrorists who snuck through one such tunnel.