Confiscated Turkish flotilla ships return home 5Aug10 August 6, 2010

Ynet News and Palestine Note -  5 August 2010

The Turkish tugboats tasked with returning the ships arrived Thursday morning at Haifa’s port, where the ships have been held since they were confiscated.

One of the three ships being returned, the Mavi Marmara, witnessed violent clashes between Israeli commandos, who raided the six-ship convoy, and passengers. Nine Turkish passengers, including one with American citizenship, were killed, and several Israeli soldiers were injured. The ships had been sailing to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip, now in its fourth year, and to deliver aid.

Israeli officials waffled over whether they would return the ships or not. At one point, Haifa’s mayor suggested the Mavi Marmara be turned into a luxury floating hotel.

As the ships start their voyage back to Turkey, Israel’s Foreign Ministry sent a letter to Turkish officials expressing their expectation that Ankara will prevent anymore future flotillas from trying to break Israel’s blockade.

The Ministry emphasized that any aid intended for Gazans could be delivered to an Israeli port and then delivered to the Strip by land via border crossings. The Israeli officials stressed that this method was in line with international concerns and all recognized agreements.

Israel began easing its blockade of the Strip following an announcement in mid-June. The decision came after weeks of international condemnation of the blockade. Under pressure, Israel swapped its policy from a list of permitted items to one of prohibited items, allowing in anything not on the new list. This still stymies the import of construction materials, needed for private rebuilding projects to repair damage following Israel’s 2008-2009 Operation Cast Lead in the Strip. Israel allows only internationally orchestrated projects to import construction materials.

Israel also made a policy u-turn earlier this week when it announced it would participate in a UN-mandated investigation into the events of May 31. “Israel has nothing to hide, the opposite is true,” said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, Israel will not allow the UN prove to investigation to question Israelis.

Israel has launched two of its own internal probes. One investigated the actions taken by military personnel during the raid. It has already produced its results, finding that mistakes were made at the planning level, but that the use of force by Israeli commandos was still justified. The Turkel commission, looking into the legal realities surrounding the raid, is still underway.

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