JERUSALEM, Israel - Sometime over the weekend Israeli naval forces expect to spot the first few ships in the nine-vessel "blockade busting" flotilla en route to the Gaza Strip.
The ships, with 700 activists on board, are carrying 10,000 tons of food, clothing, medical supplies, and construction materials to residents of the Gaza Strip, which "have been denied them by Israel," according to a statement on the Free Gaza Movement's website.
Three Turkish ships set sail from Antalya Tuesday, promising to storm the blockade and threatening "a diplomatic response" if Israel tries to intercept them, Humanitarian Relief Foundation press coordinator Serkan Nergis told the Hurriyet Daily News.
"It is Gaza's port and Israel has no right to stop us in terms of international law," Nergis said. The ships in the flotilla are setting sail from Turkey, Greece, Cyprus, Sweden and Ireland.
Aiding Palestinians or Hamas?
However, international law does prohibit providing support to terrorist organizations such as Hamas, the Palestinian faction ruling the Gaza Strip, Jerusalem Post Deputy Managing editor Caroline Glick pointed out in her column entitled Reclaiming our language from the Left.
And a report released on Thursday by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center revealed that senior Hamas and Muslim Brotherhood members attended the launching of the Turkish ships.
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said organizers of the flotilla had been invited to use the land crossings, which are the most efficient way to transfer goods to Gaza.
"However they are less interested in bringing in aid than in promoting their radical agenda, playing into the hands of Hamas provocations," Palmor said.
"While they have wrapped themselves in a humanitarian cloak, they are engaging in political propaganda and not in pro-Palestinian aid," he said.
"If the organizers were truly interested in providing humanitarian aid - as opposed to engaging in political stunts - they would use the proper channels to ensure delivery of any supplies," Palmor said. Click here to view Palmor's statement.
No Shortages in Gaza
At several stages of their journey, Israeli commanders will try to convince the ships' captains to turn around, but the Navy is "prepared for every possible scenario," one defense official said earlier in the week.
Commander of the Navy, Maj. Gen. Eliezer Marom, instructed his forces "not to be dragged into provocations and to act with fair judgment."
Gen. Marom said while his men do not want to cause any harm to the activists on board the vessels, the Navy has a clear mission that has to be carried out.
"If they decide to continue sailing and do not listen to the instructions, then they will be stopped, brought to Israel, and dealt with by the Interior Ministry, which will return them to the countries they came from," the IDF said in a statement.
The cargo will be unloaded and, after a security check, delivered to the Gaza Strip, the statement said.
At a press conference Wednesday at the Erez Crossing with the Gaza Strip, Col. Moshe Levi, commander of the Gaza District Coordination Office, said there is no humanitarian crisis in the Strip.
"The sail is a provocative act that is unnecessary in light of the figures, which indicate that the humanitarian situation in Gaza is good and stable," Levi said.
"We are not familiar with any shortages in any field, and we are permitting the entrance of different kinds of equipment into Gaza, as well as the exporting of produce from Gaza," he said. He added that "anything that may be used by Hamas to boost its military capabilities" would not be allowed in.