Atul Aneja

DUBAI: The standoff between Israel and international supporters of the Gaza aid flotilla is coming to a head with the deployment of the Israeli warships on Saturday to stop the convoy once it entered Israeli controlled waters.

According to the Israeli navy, eight ships are sailing towards Gaza.

The convoy named Freedom Flotilla is likely to set sail towards the Gaza Strip from the international waters off the shores of Cyprus on Saturday afternoon, Israel Radio said.

Palestinian media sources said that if the ships pursue their pre-set timetable they were expected to arrive in Israeli territorial waters on Sunday morning.

Analysts point out that the expected denial of the flotilla's movement towards Gaza is likely to raise tensions between Israel and Turkey.

The ships belongs to Insani Yardim Vakfi (Humanitarian Aid Association), a Turkish, non-governmental organisation (NGO). Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had earlier appealed to Israel to lift its blockade to allow the flotilla to complete its humanitarian mission in Gaza.

Earlier on Friday, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said the aid convoy manifested “violent propaganda against Israel, and Israel will not allow its sovereignty to be threatened in any way, in any place land, air or sea”. Mr. Lieberman denied existence of any humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and stressed that despite rocket fire on Israeli towns by Hamas, Israel was responding to Gaza's internal situation “in the most humane way”.

On his part, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh on Saturday said any attack on the flotilla by Israel would be internationally viewed as a victory for the Palestinians. “The meaning of the flotilla is that the entire world opposes the siege on the Gaza Strip, and if Israel behaves like pirates and sea-terrorists — we will win,” he said.