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Gov't pressure on İHH divides group before flotilla decision

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 6/16/2011 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN

Under indirect pressure from the government to cancel plans to send a new flotilla to Gaza, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, is facing a growing split.

Under indirect pressure from the government to cancel plans to send a new flotilla to Gaza, the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, is facing a growing split on the eve of a key decision to be announced Friday.

“The evaluations are still ongoing. We are considering every option,” Hüseyin Oruç, a board member of the Turkish relief organization İHH and the spokesman for the new flotilla, told the Hürriyet Daily News.

Twenty-two vessels from different countries, including the Mavi Marmara, which played a leading role in last year’s trip, are expected to sail to Gaza after meeting in international waters in the Eastern Mediterranean on June 27.

The Turkish government has been discouraging the İHH through indirect channels from sailing to Gaza, indicating growing instability in Syria as the fundamental reason behind it, although the United States’ pressure on Turkey to stop the flotilla is another important factor.

Turkish-Israeli relations were seriously damaged after Israel raided the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, killing nine. Turkey insists on an apology and compensation as a precursor to normalizing its relations with Israel.

Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu urged the flotilla’s organizers to see how the Egyptian opening of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, as well as the intra-Palestinian unity between rival factions Hamas and al-Fatah, affects the situation before heading to the blockaded strip.

“The flotilla is sailing, but we’ll announce the final decision about the Mavi Marmara at a press conference at 11 a.m. on Friday,” Oruç said, adding that international activists of other planned ships would also be present at the press event.

Oruç reiterated earlier remarks made to the Daily News that the latest developments in the region, especially in neighboring Syria, prompted the group to reconsider the plans. Turkish organizers of the flotilla are having second thoughts about sending the Mavi Marmara to Gaza this year especially after the crisis in neighboring Syria which prompted an influx of refugees to the Turkish side of the shared border following President Bashar al-Assad’s crackdown on dissidents.

“We already have members of our board on the Syrian side of the border in the buffer zone next to the refugees,” said Oruç. “We went there to coordinate humanitarian aid, but it appears the crisis will not be resolved in the short run.”

The Daily News has also learned that the split within the İHH is widening as some members from its nationalist wing insist on sending the ship to Gaza, while others close to government circles are reluctant to do so, especially after Ankara’s suggestion that the group reconsider its plans. Some members of the İHH expressed their willingness to sail to Gaza through social media late Wednesday after the Daily News broke the news that the İHH was thinking of revising its plans.

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