Organizers plan new, larger Gaza aid flotilla before year-end

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Pro-Palestinian activists behind the Gaza aid convoy stopped by a deadly Israeli commando raid in May said Wednesday they are planning another, bigger flotilla before the end of the year.

The network of organizations involved in the effort is growing and now has support groups around the world, including in the U.S., Venezuela, Chile, and Malaysia, said Dror Feiler, a spokesman for the Swedish group Ship to Gaza.

He said European representatives of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group, met in Stockholm on Wednesday to plan a new flotilla with up to 12 ships.

They are hoping to include celebrity activists including lawmakers, musicians, artists and sports stars from around world, Feiler said, but didn't give any names.

Israeli commandos on May 31 raided a six-ship aid flotilla, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American. Although Israel claimed the soldiers acted in self defense, the bloodshed provoked an international outcry that forced it to ease its Gaza blockade — imposed when Hamas seized control of the area in 2007.

The Freedom Flotilla Coalition said Israel's steps have not been enough.

"Israel's alleged easing of the closure on Gaza has been purely cosmetic, intended only to deflect criticism from its illegal policies," the organization said in a statement released at the Stockholm meeting.

"Expanding the list of items permitted into Gaza does not address the most fundamental concern of the people there — freedom of movement," it said.

Israel imposed its blockade of the Gaza Strip after Hamas militants seized power there three years ago. Israel has said the measures were needed to prevent Hamas from arming, but the blockade has brought Gaza's economy to a virtual standstill.

The Stockholm meeting included activists from Greece, France and Sweden and the Turkish Islamic aid group IHH, which has been outlawed by Israel amid accusations of ties with Palestinian militant group Hamas.

Feiler said flotilla organizers are in the process of buying and licensing ships for the new operation and getting them flagged in European countries.

They also plan to travel to Israel at the end of August or early September to reclaim ships seized by Israel in the first flotilla, he said.

Israel has vowed to stop all future foreign flotillas.