Several international groups and a Turkish charity made up flotilla


FLOTILLA CONSTITUENTS:Derided by Israel before and after the attack, the Free Gaza activists come from a broad global spectrum

THE FLOTILLA of ships attacked by the Israeli military yesterday was organised by a number of international pro-Palestinian groups and a Turkish charity banned by Israel because of suspected links with Hamas.

An estimated 700 people from several different countries were on board vessels in the Gaza-bound flotilla stormed by Israeli commandos early yesterday morning, according to the Free Gaza Movement, one of the organising groups. The majority were Turkish.

There were also activists from Ireland, the US, Britain, Australia, Greece, Canada, Malaysia, Algeria, Serbia, Belgium, Norway, Sweden and Kuwait.

The Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement (FGM) has tried to break the Gaza blockade nine times. A registered charity, the FGM was formed by an alliance of human rights groups to highlight the blockade. It has affiliates in countries including Ireland, Greece, Germany and the UK.

The first sailing to Gaza, which was organised by the FGM and the International Solidarity Movement, a pro-Palestinian group that often sends activists into battle zones, took place in August 2008. Among those taking part was Lauren Booth, sister-in-law of then prime minister Tony Blair.

There were seven subsequent attempts to land in Gaza, at least four of which were successful.

The FGM has received endorsements from a number of well- known figures including Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Nobel Peace Prize winner Mairead Corrigan-Maguire, who participated in this week’s convoy. She was arrested and detained in Israel last year after attempting to defy the blockade by sailing a boatload of aid into Gaza.

The Turkish charity Ýnsani Yardým Vakfý, which goes by the acronym IHH, contributed at least three of the vessels in this week’s flotilla, including a passenger vessel that carried some 500 people.

The IHH was founded in the 1990s by a group of activists who were involved in channelling aid to war-torn Bosnia. Since then, it has expanded its operations to more than 80 countries.

The IHH says it delivered $24 million (€19.5 million) worth of humanitarian supplies to Gaza between 2005 and 2009.

Israel outlawed the IHH in 2008. Its representative in the West Bank, Izzet Shahin, was arrested in April this year and deported in mid-May.

The IHH claimed the arrest was an attempt to intimidate the organisation in advance of the aid flotilla to Gaza. The IHH was one of the largest participants in the Viva Palestina aid convoy that attempted to break the blockade on Gaza from Egypt in January.

The Malaysian-based Perdana Global Peace Organisation was also involved in organising this week’s attempt to break the blockade.

Israel has called the flotilla “a cheap political stunt” and officials argued repeatedly in recent weeks that it was unnecessary.