Turkish NGO reiterates plans for second Gaza flotilla
The Turkish non-governmental organization that was the main sponsor of an aid flotilla to Gaza last May that ended in the killing of nine pro-Palestinian activists by Israeli forces reiterated its plans on Friday to launch another flotilla in June, DPA reported.
Bulent Yildirim, the chairman of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedom and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), said the Freedom Flotilla 2 would set sail in the last week of June and again attempt to break the Israeli naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Yildirim said the flotilla, which is being organized by the IHH and 21 other groups, would consist of 15 ships with a total of 1,500 activists from more than 100 countries.
"If you interfere this time, it will be your loss," Yildirim said, addressing the government of Israel.
Turkish-Israeli relations have been at rock bottom since Israeli commandos shot eight Turkish citizens and a Turkish-American onboard the Mavi Marmara, one of six ships in the flotilla, in international waters.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and demanded an official apology and compensation from Israel in response to the attack, which was condemned by many countries.
Israel has refused to make an apology or consider compensation, saying it acted in self-defence.
The IHH had previously announced that it would send a second flotilla on the one-year anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident but later decided to delay the launch until after Turkish parliamentary elections on June 12.
The United States has warned Turkey that sending another flotilla to the Gaza Strip would not be helpful, Turkey's semi-official Anatolia Agency reported Thursday.
"In the year since the last flotilla episode, Israel has changed the humanitarian regime for Gaza, (and) made very clear that there are alternative ways to get humanitarian assistance to Gaza," Philip Gordon, assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, was quoted as saying.
"We have asked [the Turkish government] to make clear to any Turkish NGOs that might want to send a ship that they should really find this other path," Gordon said at a Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday.
Yildirim criticized the United States' government's support for Israel, which he said was isolating itself internationally due to its treatment of the Palestinians.
"This is just one step in the path towards freedom," he said. "If you don't stop this unjustness, the entire Arab Spring will fail," Yildirim said.