Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Return of the Mavi Marmara

PHOTO from Hurriyet Daily News

Thousands gathered in Taksim Square last night on the eve of the one-year anniversary of Israel's raid of the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara in which Israeli commandos eight Turkish citizens and one American of Turkish descent.

Yesterday morning, the International Relief Foundation (IHH) held a press conference announcing the organization is continuing to move forward with plans for 15 ships carrying 1,500 activists from 38 countries to sail to Gaza at the end of June. The Mavi Marmara is expected to be at the front-and-center.

Diplomatic relations also heated up around the one-year anniversary as Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Turkey would retaliate should Israel once more carry out military operations on the ships. According to Israeli press reports, the Israel Defense Forces are mobilizing to meet the flotilla, though is focusing on counter-riot strategies. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said the flotilla will not be permitted to land in Gaza and that force will be used when and where necessary.

The United States is attempting to break the impasse, though Turkish government officials are have maintained their argument that they do not have the legal power to intervene to stop a Turkish NGO from carrying out such a mission.

In the meantime, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has extended the working period for the UN Panel of Inquiry currently investigating last year's raid.

UPDATE I (6/2) -- Hurriyet reports (in Turkish) the United States is planning to submit a proposal to Turkey by which Turkey would block IHH's flotilla plans in exchange for making Turkey the place of upcoming Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

UPDATE II (6/6) --  Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu has publicly called on the IHH to delay plans to send a flotilla to Gaza. The IHH rejected the foreign minister's request, arguing that the flotilla was necessary to providing Gazans with much needed aid and asserting sovereignty over their ports. The government is arguing that the IHH should wait to see what happens in the wake of the Rafah border crossing being opened (it is opened for civilian crossings, but not for aid supplies) and plans to install a new Palestinian unity government.

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