Turkish Relief group signals U-turn on Gaza plan

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Fulya Özerkan
ANKARA- Hürriyet Daily News
The aid ship Mavi Marmara has to wait a bit longer as a Turkish nongovernmental organization is considering canceling its relief mission to the Gaza Strip.

A Turkish civil-society group appears to be backing away from its previous resolve to send a new aid flotilla to Gaza, saying Tuesday that it may cancel its plans depending on developments, especially in Syria.

“We are reconsidering our plans. We cannot close our eyes to the developments on our doorstep,” Hüseyin Oruç, a board member of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, and the spokesman for the new flotilla, told the Hürriyet Daily News. The group had previously demonstrated a firm insistence on sending the Mavi Marmara, the vessel on which nine people were killed last year in an Israeli raid on an earlier flotilla, back to Gaza in late June.

“Our goal is not to set sail to Gaza. We think we can serve the purpose by sending a ship or canceling it,” Oruç said Tuesday. “We’ll make our decision by the end of this week,” the spokesman added.

Twenty-two vessels from different countries, including the Mavi Marmara, are set to meet in international waters close to the southern parts of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus on June 27 before sailing to Gaza, according to the initial plans. The international activists involved in the new flotilla will meet in Athens this weekend, Oruç said.

“We will discuss the emerging conditions. Every country has its own balance. From our point of view, the developments in neighboring Syria are critically important,” he told the Daily News.

“We are reconsidering our plans. The international community is talking about an intervention in Syria, a development that would affect Turkey very much, as well as Palestine and peace in the region. All the factors are inter-linked and we must be looking at all of them,” Oruç added.

The İHH insists that the Turkish government did not interfere in the flotilla plans, but Ankara’s call to the group to reconsider sending a ship to Gaza is believed to have been influential on their current position.

Early this month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu urged the flotilla’s organizers to see how the Egyptian opening of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza, as well as the intra-Palestinian unity between rival factions Hamas and al-Fatah, has affected the situation before heading to the blockaded strip. That was the first time the government had suggested flotilla organizers should reconsider their plans.

“The government’s warnings should not be regarded as strange,” Oruç said.

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