Turkish NGO announces plans to break Gaza deadlock

12 August 2014

A Turkish charity on today unveiled plans to send an aid convoy to break the Israeli siege of Gaza, which could complicate diplomatic efforts to end the coastal territory's bloody five-week conflict.

The Istanbul-based International Relief Foundation (IHH) said it would reprise its 2010 effort to break the blockade that resulted in the deaths of 10 Turkish aid workers after Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel in the previous flotilla.

The group - considered close to the Turkish government - said it had taken the decision "in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza". Details of the latest expedition would be announced in a press conference on Tuesday, it added.

''As most governments are complicit, the responsibility falls on civil society to challenge the Israeli blockade on Gaza," the charity said.

The plan emerged as four Palestinians from Gaza arrived in Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Monday for medical treatment for injuries suffered during Israel's bombardment of the territory. Turkey has said it may evacuate thousands in need of treatment.

Dispatching a fresh flotilla at a time of high tension could set the stage for yet another confrontation between Israel and Turkey, whose prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan - riding a wave of popularity after being elected the country's president on Sunday - has vehemently criticised the latest Israeli military assault on Gaza.

An Israeli official said the move - if it went ahead - would prompt a further worsening in the two countries' already frigid relations. "I cannot imagine a worse idea. If there was a way to improve the appalling state of relations between Israel and Turkey, this is not it," he said.

The 2010 episode - which also came against the backdrop of Mr Erdogan's condemnation of Israel's Gaza policy - triggered a rupture in the formerly close ties between the two countries that has still not been repaired.

Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, extended a formal apology to the Turkish leader last year in a phone call arranged by President Barack Obama, who was visiting Israel at the time. But negotiations over compensation have become bogged down and full diplomatic relations have not been restored.

Israeli officials have rebuffed Turkish mediation attempts during the current Gaza conflict, regarding Erdogan's government as too close to Hamas, the Islamist group in de facto control of the territory.

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