IHH says Mavi Marmara will not sail with Gaza flotilla 17Jun11 June 18, 2011

Ma’an News Agency -  17 June 2011

The Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, which was raided by Israeli troops en route to Gaza in May 2010, will not join a flotilla to the coastal strip in the coming weeks organizers said Friday, amid conflicting reports as to what prevented its launch.

“After the damage caused to the Mavi Marmara [during the raid], we are not in a position to go to sea,” said Bulent Yildirim, the president of the Islamic charity IHH which owns the ship and is spearheading the mission.

Meanwhile the Israeli daily Haaretz reported that IHH members said port authorities in Turkey did not provide them with the necessary approval for the ship.

Earlier this month, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu called on activists to rethink the upcoming mission after the opening of the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt.

But he said he could only discourage, and not prevent, the independent IHH from taking part, in response to calls from UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon for all governments to use their influence to discourage the flotilla.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet said Thursday that the government had been using “indirect channels” to pressure IHH not to sail with the Gaza flotilla.

As well as the Rafah opening, the government and organizers said the crisis in neighboring Syria, which has seen an influx of refugees fleeing violence into Turkey, was behind recent reconsideration of IHH focusing its humanitarian efforts on Gaza.

IHH board member Huseyin Oruc said earlier in the week that the group was reevaluating its plans to travel to Gaza due to new developments in the region, Hurriyet reported.

Davutoglu had suggested that aid could now be delivered without provoking Israel or risking the lives of citizens.

But IHH stressed in a statement Friday that it would participate in the flotilla by other means, saying that “so-called ‘established channels’ for delivering aid to Gaza, referred to by global leaders seeking to stop our mission, do not allow for the needs of the people of Gaza to be met due to Israel’s many restrictions, nor do they permit freedom for Palestinians.”

“Representatives of IHH and Turkish activists will sail with other flotilla ships,” the group said.

In its statement, IHH said pulling the Mavi Marmara from the flotilla, in which around 10 ships are currently preparing to sail from European and US ports, could strengthen the public diplomacy case.

“The misinformation put forward by the Israeli government and its supporters that the flotilla is a ‘Turkish’ and ‘Islamist’ effort will be completely exposed.”

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish activists when they boarded the Mavi Marmara during a mission to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza in May last year .

Israeli forces conducted naval exercises Wednesday to prepare for the flotilla, releasing footage and images to the Israeli press.

In a statement Thursday the Israeli military said “Last year’s flotilla consisted of violent activists with ties to worldwide radical Islamic terrorist activity who pre-planned the attack on the Israeli Navy commandos who boarded the ship.

“The organizers of this year’s flotilla are similar to those of last year, including organizations such as the IHH who have close ties to Hamas and other terrorist cells worldwide.”

International boats with the new flotilla are scheduled to set sail at the end of June to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza.

“Our destination is Gaza and our aim is non-violent,” said Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli musician speaking for the organizers. “Our goal is to force a permanent end to the illegal Israeli blockade of Gaza.”

The raid last year ignited a diplomatic row between Israel and Turkey, two countries that once had good relations.

Israel has strongly urged Turkey to block the flotilla from leaving this time, warning that its forces will again take action to prevent activists from arriving in Gaza.

Egypt has reopened its Rafah border crossing with Gaza, allowing people to leave the territory and weakening Israel’s blockade of the coastal territory.

Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in 2006, after Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was snatched by a group of Gaza-based militants. It tightened the restrictions a year later, when the radical Palestinian Hamas movement took control of the enclave.

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