Connect to share and comment

A reported blog about all things Middle East and North Africa.

Gaza aid flotilla gets grounded

Citing needed repairs, aid group says the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Gaza-bound aid flotilla, will not make a second trip.
Turkey israel gaza flotilla 2011 5 13Enlarge
Activists of the new Gaza flotilla called 'Freedom Flotilla Two' talk prior to giving a press conference on Feb. 7, 2011 in Madrid. (Dominique Faget/AFP/Getty Images)

The next flotilla of aid meant to thwart an Israeli blockade and bound for Gaza has suffered a setback.

There had been much fanfare in the lead up to the next aid mission, which was scheduled first to depart Turkey in mid-June and then for the beginning of July. But for the flagship vessel, the Mavi Marmara, the trip has been indefinitely delayed by its organizers from the Foundation Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief, which is known as IHH, because the ship is having "technical issues."

A second ship that was planning to sail alongside the Mavi Marmara has also been docked indefinitely. Organizers said the other ships, as many 10 altogether, are still scheduled to depart on July 5.

The decision to dock the Mavi Marmara, however, comes amid pressure from the Turkish government on the IHH to cancel its plans because of the potentially explosive diplomatic effects another attempt to break Israel's blockade might have on the region.

The first trip ended in the early hours of May 31 last year after Israeli soldiers surrounded the Mavi Marmara, which was the largest of the ships that made up the flotilla. Nine activists were killed during the confrontation, eight were Turkish citizens and one was an American of Turkish descent. The deaths, along with the injuries sustained by both activists and Israeli soldiers, set off a diplomatic scuttlebutt that continues to sour relations between Israel and Turkey to this day.

IHH organizers said the decision to delay had nothing to do with pressure from any governments.

“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,” Bulent Yildirim, head of the IHH, said at a press conference in Istanbul today.

The Hurriyet Daily News in Turkey reported the day before the announcement that tremendous pressure from the Turkish government were creating divisions within the group. And earlier in the week organizers told the paper that they were reconsidering their plans to send the flotilla to Gaza at all, citing a greater need for aid in Syria.

Thousands of Syrian refugees have flooded Turkey's southern border, trying to escape a government crackdown on a popular protest movement there.

For its part, Israel was pleased to hear the news.

“We of course welcome this move,” one Israeli official told the Daily News.

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/news/regions/europe/turkey/gaza-aid-flotilla-gets-grounded