A flotilla of eight boats carrying thousands of tonnes of construction materials, medical equipment and other aid is preparing to sail to Gaza in the next few days, setting the scene for a confrontation with Israel which has vowed to prevent the ships breaking the blockade on the Palestinian territory.
Three cargo ships and five passenger vessels plan to meet up in international waters between Cyprus and Gaza Strip before heading towards Gaza City. The Israeli military is expected to stop the flotilla and divert it to the Israeli port of Ashdod.
One of the organisers of the flotilla, which includes three vessels from Turkey, is IHH, a humanitarian aid group supported by Ankara. Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel have deteriorated since the Israelis launched a three-week war on Gaza in 2008-09. An attempt to block the flotilla is likely to increase tensions between the two countries. The Turkish prime minister, Racep Tayyip Erdogan, has called on Israel to avoid this be allowing the boats through.