Mavi Marmara drops out of Gaza flotilla
ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/17/2011 12:00:00 AM | FADIL ALİRIZA
The Mavi Marmara, which had been scheduled to sail for Gaza in an international aid flotilla, will not participate in this year’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade.
The Mavi Marmara, which had been scheduled to sail for Gaza in an international aid flotilla, will not participate in this year’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the strip “due to technical issues,” according to organizers.
“I want to make it clear why the Mavi Marmara is not sailing with the flotilla to Gaza: The exact reason has nothing to do with the government or the state, it is exactly about the technical problems. The Israelis, unbelievably, damaged our vessel, the Mavi Marmara [last year],” Bülent Yıldırım, head of the İHH nongovernmental organization, which was organizing the ship’s participation in the flotilla, told a press conference Friday at İHH headquarters in Istanbul.
The announcement comes one day after the Hürriyet Daily News reported that pressure from the Turkish government on the İHH to cancel its plans were creating divisions within the group. On Tuesday, the İHH told the Daily News that they were reconsidering their plans to send the flotilla, citing Syrian humanitarian issues as possibly necessitating a reprioritization of İHH aid.
Organizers had planned for the vessel to join other ships in the international flotilla on July 5.
Asked by the Hürriyet Daily News whether the second cargo ship that the İHH had planned to send in the flotilla would still participate, Yılıdırım said that ship would also not join the group. Instead, the second vessel would accompany the Mavi Marmara once all repairs are complete, allowing the iconic ship to again set sail with aid for Gaza.
“We of course welcome this move,” said one Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity. “We hope all the other organizers [of the planned flotilla] will see sense and will perhaps follow the lead of the İHH.”
The official told the Daily News that Israel views the flotilla as a provocation and propaganda, adding that Israel hopes this latest development may be the first step in improving Turkish-Israeli ties.
“I think the U.S. will welcome this. I think there was growing concern over Turkish foreign policy, but it looks like cooler heads have prevailed.” U.S. Senator Mark Kirk told the Daily News on Friday in a phone interview.
“Gaza is no longer isolated after the Rafah [Gaza-Egypt] border was opened,” said Kirk, making an aid flotilla “less than useless.”
Kirk earlier authored a report calling for Turkey to be held responsible for the Gaza flotilla, which he believes tried to violently break the Israeli-blockade. In the report, Kirk offers several policy recommendations, including that the U.S. label the İHH as a terrorist organization.
“The Senate is going to be moving decisively to make the decision that these guys [İHH] support terror,” he told the Daily News.
Kirk remains concerned over the fact that İHH members may participate in the flotilla on other ships, saying that the U.S. does not want any agents-provocateur.
On May 31, 2010, Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara ship in international waters, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American. The incident soured Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations, with Turkey seeking an apology, reparations for the families of those killed by Israelis, and the ending of the Gaza blockade. Israel has so far rejected these conditions.
In advance of this year’s planned flotilla, 36 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan last month, saying he had a “unique opportunity to potentially save lives,” by discouraging the flotilla from leaving for Gaza. Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suggested that “the aid flotilla should also wait to see what happens with the Rafah [Gaza-Egypt] border crossing being opened.”
Yıldırım said that while Turkish and İHH representatives would be joining the flotilla on other ships, he said he would not personally join in the flotilla without the Mavi Marmara, saying he had “a strong spiritual relationship with the Mavi Marmara.”
Yıldırım also said the İHH would like to focus on sending aid to Syrians who are crossing into Turkey as a result of violence. “At the moment, we would like to prioritize Syria.”
According to the organizers, 10 out of the expected 15 ships are ready to set sail in the flotilla from European ports on June 25.
[HH] International effort
Yılıdırım was flanked by an international panel at Friday’s conference. The panelists, representing flotilla ships and participants from the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Greece and Canada, spoke before the İHH chief, reiterating that the flotilla was an international undertaking.
“We have to remember that this is a rainbow coalition, a world-citizen action,” said Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli activist.
Organizers said Israel and its supporters in Washington had waged a public relations campaign against the flotilla by focusing on the Mavi Marmara and alleging that the flotilla was a Turkish, Islamic effort.
Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, which began sending flotillas to Gaza three years ago, said the İHH was the first organization to join their efforts at breaking the Israeli blockade.
“Turkey has shown that you don’t have to be scared of the Israeli lobby. Though we are disappointed that the Mavi Marmara cannot sail, we know that the İHH is giving all its support,” she said.