Mavi Marmara drops out of Gaza flotilla

Friday, June 17, 2011
ISTANBUL – Hürriyet Daily News

The Mavi Marmara, which had been scheduled to sail for Gaza in an international aid flotilla, will not participate in this year’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade of the strip “due to technical issues,” according to organizers.


“I want to make it clear why the Mavi Marmara is not sailing with the flotilla to Gaza: The exact reason is that it has nothing to do with the government or state, it is exactly about the technical problems. The Israelis, unbelievably, damaged our vessel, the Mavi Marmara [last year],” Bülent Yıldırım, the head of the İHH nongovernmental organization, which was organizing the ship’s participation in the flotilla, told a press conference Friday at İHH headquarters in Istanbul.


The announcement comes one day after the Hürriyet Daily News reported that pressure from the Turkish government on the İHH to cancel its plans were creating divisions within the group.


“One day we are fixing it, the next day other problems arise, so because of this we are not able to sail the Mavi Marmara with the flotilla,” Yıldırım said.


Organizers had planned for the vessel to join other ships in the international flotilla on July 5.


Asked by the Hürriyet Daily News whether the second cargo ship that the İHH had planned to send in the flotilla would still participate, Yılıdırım said that ship would also not participate. Instead, the second vessel would accompany the Mavi Marmara once all repairs are complete, allowing the iconic ship to again set sail with aid for Gaza, he added.


On May 31, 2010, Israeli forces boarded the Mavi Marmara ship in international waters, killing eight Turks and one Turkish-American. The incident soured Turkish-Israeli diplomatic relations, with Turkey seeking an apology, reparations to the families of those killed by Israelis, and the ending of the Gaza blockade. Israel has so far rejected these conditions.


In advance of this year’s planned flotilla, 36 members of the House of Representatives sent a letter to Erdoğan last month, saying he had a “unique opportunity to potentially save lives,” by discouraging the flotilla from leaving for Gaza. Earlier this month, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu suggested that “the aid flotilla should also wait to see what happens with the Rafah [Gaza-Egypt] border crossing being opened.”


Yıldırım said that while Turkish and İHH representatives would be joining the flotilla on other ships, he said he would not personally join in the flotilla without the Mavi Marmara, saying he had “a strong spiritual relationship with the Mavi Marmara.”


Yıldırım also said the İHH would like to focus on sending aid to Syrians who are crossing into Turkey as a result of violence. “At the moment, we would like to prioritize Syria.”


According to the organizers, 10 out of the expected 15 ships are ready to set sail in the flotilla from European ports on June 25.


International effort


Yılıdırım was flanked by an international panel at Friday’s conference. The panelists, representing flotilla ships and participants from the United Kingdom, the United States, Sweden, Greece and Canada, spoke before the İHH chief, reiterating that the flotilla was an international undertaking.


“We have to remember that this is a rainbow coalition, a world-citizen action,” said Dror Feiler, a Swedish-Israeli activist.


Organizers said Israel and its supporters in Washington had waged a public relations campaign against the flotilla by focusing on the Mavi Marmara and alleging that the flotilla was a Turkish, Islamic effort.


Huwaida Arraf, the chair of the Free Gaza Movement, which began sending flotillas to Gaza three years ago, said the İHH was the first organization to join their efforts at breaking the Israeli blockade.


“Turkey has shown that you don’t have to be scared of the Israeli lobby. Though we are disappointed that the Mavi Marmara cannot sail, we know that the İHH is giving all its support,” she said.


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