Flotilla group calls for UN escort, a ‘stunt’ says Israel

ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News
As a new aid convoy to Gaza readies to sail at the end of June, organizers say they are willing to have their cargo inspected and their ships escorted by international observers. Israel dismisses the move as a ‘publicity stunt,’ while supporters of the flotilla in the EU have questioned the legal necessity of such an escort
The İHH is organizing the Mavi Marmara and an additional cargo ship as the Turkish part of what will be a 15-boat aid flotilla. Hürriyet photo
The İHH is organizing the Mavi Marmara and an additional cargo ship as the Turkish part of what will be a 15-boat aid flotilla. Hürriyet photo

Organizers of the Turkish branch of the aid flotilla set to leave for Gaza at the end of June have said they are willing to have their cargo inspected and their ships escorted by international observers.

Israel, however, has dismissed the move as a “publicity stunt,” while supporters of the flotilla in the European Union have questioned the legal necessity of such an escort.

“We are ready to talk with everybody. Already we have started these kinds of visits for the European Parliament, for the United Nations to make some solution,” Hüseyin Oruç, an administrative board member of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, told the Hürriyet Daily News in an interview Tuesday.

“All these boats can be checked by the U.N., or the European Parliament’s commissions. We are ready to show all the details of our preparation,” he said. “They can check [the boats] in the ports, they can check on international waters, they can guide us, they can guide the distribution of all items in Gaza. It’s open to all international mediators.”

An Israeli official dismissed the proposal as a “publicity stunt,” saying that Israel is always willing to accept, process and transmit Gaza-bound aid.

“That obviously won’t happen,” an Israeli official speaking on condition of anonymity told the Daily News. “All the international players, [U.N. chief] Ban Ki-moon, [EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs] Catherine Ashton have all called the move provocative.”

The İHH is organizing the Mavi Marmara and an additional cargo ship as the Turkish part of what will be a 15-boat aid flotilla. On its voyage to Gaza last year, the Mavi Marmara was attacked by Israeli forces who boarded the ship and killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American onboard.

Last week, a group of American congressional representatives sent a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan asking him to discourage the flotilla from “provoking a confrontation” with Israel in a bid to “save lives.” The Turkish government’s response so far has been that the letter was incorrectly directed to them, as the flotilla is being organized by civilian, nongovernmental organizations that the government does not control.

The İHH, responding to the letter, echoed the Turkish government response, saying that the group had no contact with the Turkish government, but added that Israel was in fact the party that the U.S. Congress needed to address to avoid another crisis.

“Also we are asking all these congresspeople, if you are looking for the solution, don’t ask the prime minister of Turkey. Why are you not asking the Prime Minister of Israel? They need to talk with [Benjamin] Netanyahu,” Oruç said.

Regarding the possibility of an EU parliamentary commission escorting the flotilla, a spokesman for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists & Democrats, the party with the second largest representation in the EU Parliament, said the party has been supportive of the flotilla, but had not seen any proposal regarding a European escort.

“I question the necessity” of an international escort for the ship, said Tony Robinson, head of press and communications for the alliance.

International participation

This year the Mavi Marmara will have 500 people onboard, 400 of whom will be of nationalities other than Turkish, Oruç said. The remaining 100 will be Turks, of whom 50 will be journalists.

“On the first [Mavi Marmara aid trip] there were 38 nationalities; on the second flotilla it will be more coverage. About 100 nationalities will be on the boat. Only a very limited number of Turkish people will be on the Mavi Marmara,” Oruç told the Daily News.

Those on the ship will be mostly from the media and “representatives of societies” and local communities, he said.

The İHH has also sent two aid flotillas to Libya in recent weeks, one to Misrata, besieged by Col. Moammar Gadhafi’s forces, and one to rebel-held Benghazi. According to Oruç, “all international forces” involved in NATO operations in Libya supported the İHH flotilla to these besieged cities – something he said indicated a double standard imposed on the İHH in its attempt to distribute aid.

“Gaza people have the same right as Misrata people,” Oruç said.

The İHH was scheduled to address members of the media at a press conference Friday morning.

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