Turkish NGO pulls out of new Gaza flotilla for "technical" reasons

Turkish NGO pulls out of new Gaza flotilla for "technical" reasons

The Turkish charity that was the main organiser of an aid flotilla to Gaza last May which ended in bloodshed will not be sending the Mavi Marmara or any other ships with a second flotilla leaving in late June, organizers said Friday, DPA reported.

The IHH-Humanitarian Relief Foundation had previously said it would send the Mavi Marmara - the ship where nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed last year in a raid by Israeli forces - as part of the so-called Freedom Flotilla II.

"The Mavi Marmara suffered so much damage [last year] that for technical reasons it won't be ready to sail," Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH-Humanitarian Relief Foundation, announced at a press conference.

The announcement capped several days of speculation that the IHH would back down on sending the Mavi Marmara with the second flotilla because of pressure from the Turkish government.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu - after previously saying that democratic countries had no ability to control the actions of NGOs - had recently appeared to discourage the group from sending ships to join the second flotilla.

"The aid flotilla should wait to see what happens with the Rafah border crossing being opened and see how Israel perceives the new [Palestinian] government," Davutoglu said earlier this month.

Turkish-Israeli relations have been at their lowest point since the Mavi Marmara incident, with the two sides having reached an impasse over the Turkish government's demands for an official apology and compensation from Israel, which Tel Aviv has rebuffed.

The Turkish government is also reported to be concerned about unrest in neighbouring Syria - a country that borders both Turkey and Israel - and its implications for stability in the region.

Yildirim claimed political pressure was not behind the IHH's decision to withdraw its boats from the second flotilla.

"There are technical problems, stemming from the damage to our vessels in the Israelis' attack last year. [I] Don't see pressure from the government as being behind this," he said.

There was no mention of technical problems at a commemoration ceremony of the May 31, 2010 incident held several weeks ago aboard the Mavi Marmara, where it was docked at a shipyard in Istanbul.

Organizers said then that the Mavi Marmara, along with a Turkish cargo ship carrying supplies, would be among 15 ships that would take part in the second flotilla.

Yildirim did not satisfactorily explain why the cargo ship would also not be joining the flotilla, saying only that the group intended to send both vessels to Gaza at a later time "when the Mavi Marmara is ready."

Organizers said the Freedom Flotilla II would be comprised of 10 ships that would set sail from European ports on about June 25, meeting in up international waters off Cyprus before heading to Gaza.

Yildirim said Turks would travel aboard other ships in the flotilla to take part in the aid mission, but he did not specify how many would go.

"We will still be part of the fleet sailing from Europe; we are a part of the coalition," Yildirim said.

International activists said their goal of forcing Israel to lift its naval blockade of Gaza remained the same.

"The fact that the Mavi Marmara will not participate in the Flotilla II shows that Israeli misinformation that it is a Turkish or Islamist flotilla will be exposed," said Dror Feiler, a Swedish activist who participated last year and is to lead the Swedish contingent this year.

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