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Turkish rights group's cargo ship to set sail with Gaza aid

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 4/13/2010 12:00:00 AM |

A Turkish human rights group is preparing to send a cargo ship laden with aid to Gaza in to help the victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently under an Israeli embargo.

A Turkish human rights group is preparing to send a cargo ship laden with aid to Gaza in an effort to help the victims of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict currently under an Israeli embargo.

The 1,080-person capacity ship, the “Mavi Marmara,” will set sail from Istanbul’s Haydarpaşa port on May 12 as part of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, or İHH’s, campaign, “Palestine is our route, humanitarian aid is our load.”

The ship will be equipped with materials such as cement, iron, children’s playgrounds, tents, food, stationery, educational materials, medicine and medical equipment.

“For the past four year a silent genocide has been taking place in Gaza. Because of the embargo, 60 percent of the population, mostly women and children, are suffering from malnutrition and disease. Now, we are acting against it,” İHH President Bülent Yıldırım said during a press conference in Istanbul on Tuesday.

Yıldırım said many of the aid campaigns to Gaza have political motives and governments often send the territory aid on a one-off basis.

“We will have support from many political parties but this initiative is not politically geared, our motives are purely humanitarian and we will be persistent in our aid campaigns and continue to send out materials to meet the needs of the people,” he said.

According to Yıldırım, Palestinians have had bad experiences with vessels plying their waters since 1948. “Generally people that sit on the water banks fishing and having picnics have been attacked. Therefore through this initiative we want to change this [perception] and help them.”

Activists from the United States, the United Kingdom, Ireland, Greece, France, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Venezuela and 42 other countries are supporting the project. Seven other ships will also embark on the journey in an effort to break the embargo and deliver the aid.

“Our aim is to reach Gaza within five days, Israel could block our way but we will not turn back; we will stay in the middle of the sea and invite ships from all across the world until our aid is allowed through,” Yıldırım said.

Although there is a remote chance Israel could attack the ships, Yıldırım said the prospect was unlikely, adding that such action would the equivalent of attacking a consulate, which would have severe consequences for relations between the countries.

Yıldırım said 1.5 million people are struggling for basic means of survival in Gaza. “Only a limited amount of food and help are sent through tunnels. This is like putting restrictions on a man to breathe through a tube when he can just breathe naturally.”

He said the cargo ship was purchased for $800,000. “No ship-owner consented to lease theirs for the campaign, that is why the foundation had to purchase its own ships,” said Yıldırım, adding that they hope to receive donations from the public.

A large wooden board will be put up in Haydarpaşa for people who support the campaign to leave their hand prints on it, which İHH hopes will encourage more people to participate.

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