Turkish group may re-send flotilla aid ships to bust Gaza siege 7Aug10 August 8, 2010

Haaretz -  7 August 2010

The group behind a flotilla of ships that sailed to Gaza in May despite an Israeli naval blockade and ended when Israeli forces stormed the ships and killed nine activists said on Saturday it may use the vessels for another run on the blockade.

Israel released the three ships this week after sending the Turkish Foreign Ministry a message that said it expected Turkey to prevent the vessels, which arrived in the east Mediterranean port of Iskenderun earlier on Saturday, from attempting to reach Hamas-run Gaza again.

Huseyin Oruc, a board member at the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid (IHH), which owns the ships, told Reuters TV that if the blockade on Gaza continued, the boats may take part in another mission.

“If the problem is not solved, many flotillas … will sail to Gaza. If necessary, these boats can also be used for this,” Oruc said.

“We have purchased these three boats for Palestinian needs. If it is necessary, we can use easily use them. These boats are humanitarian boats,” he added.

Before releasing the ships, Israel, which had impounded the vessels after the May 31 raid, had unsuccessfully sought a promise that they would not be sent to Gaza again.

The raid caused a deep rift in relations between Israel and Turkey, once its closest Muslim ally. Turkey demanded an apology, withdrew its ambassador and canceled joint military exercises with Israel.

Turkey also listed the return of the vessels as one of several conditions for normalizing relations.

The converted cruise liner Mavi Marmara, aboard which Israeli navy commandos clashed with Turkish activists and killed nine, and two cargo ships were accompanied by Turkish tugboats from Israel because their motors were not functioning.

The Mavi Marmara appeared to be freshly painted, though signs in Hebrew and Arabic script were still visible. Clothing and personal effects could be seen through the ship’s windows, and what appeared to be a bullet hole near the captain’s cabin was seen from the nearby shore.

Oruc said the boats had been painted to cover bullet holes and other evidence.

“Thousands of bullets hit the boat, and it was damaged everywhere. When they captured the boats, the Israelis hid all of this proof on the outside of the boat. They have been repaired and were painted,” he said.

Local officials told reporters prosecutors would board the ships on Monday to investigate for evidence of what happened during the raid.

Israel has admitted to mistakes, but said its marines were justified in using lethal force because the Mavi Marmara’s activists had attacked them with clubs, knives and guns.

It also has taken fence-mending measures, such as easing overland trade to Gaza and lifting a travel advisory to Turkey for Israeli tourists.

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