WASHINGTON – A bipartisan group of members of Congress has written a letter appealing to the Turkish government to prevent a second flotilla from sailing to Gaza this June.

“We write today to express our serious concern over reports that the so-called Free Gaza Movement and the IHH are planning to send another flotilla to Gaza in the coming weeks to provoke a confrontation with Israel,” the members wrote in the letter, sent on Wednesday.

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“We ask you to help discourage these efforts and work with the Israeli government in a productive way as it continues to allow legitimate aid, but not weapons, to enter Gaza.”

The letter continued by stating that “Israel, like any country in the world, must take whatever steps necessary to protect its citizens and that starts with preventing additional weapons from entering Gaza. If flotilla organizers carry out their confrontational plans, the Israelis will have little choice but to board the vessels and search for weapons.”

The representatives warned: “We fear violence could erupt just as it did last year. We are seeking your active participation in finding a resolution that prevents violence.”

Thirty-six members signed onto the letter, spearheaded by Rep.

Steve Israel (D-New York) and Rep. Tom Cole (R-Oklahoma).

The letter was addressed to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has said the government cannot stop an independent group of citizens from setting sail for Gaza. After the violent confrontation between a flotilla sent by the Turkish organization IHH and the IDF last May, Erdogan said he had urged that flotilla not to sail.

Many members of Congress and Israeli officials have doubted that account, and some have even charged that the Turkish government helped launch the flotilla.

In the Senate Wednesday, more than a dozen lawmakers cosponsored a resolution declaring that Syrian President Bashar Assad has “lost legitimacy” and urging US President Barack Obama to take stronger measures against him.

The resolution “strongly condemns and deplores the human rights abuses of the government of Syria” and warns that it was committing international crimes for which the perpetrators will be held accountable.

While the senators welcomed the sanctions the administration has imposed on Syrian officials believed to be behind the greatest human rights abuse, they said they would like the president to “speak out directly and personally to the people of Syria.”

“Bashar Assad’s legitimacy has run out, and it is time for us to align ourselves unambiguously with the aspirations of the Syrian people for a peaceful, democratic future,” said Sen. Joe Lieberman (I-Connecticut), a cosponsor of the resolution.

Critics of the Assad regime are particularly eager to see the Obama administration call Assad’s role illegitimate, which would be a significant step toward breaking ties and urging him to leave office rather than holding out hope that he could reform.

Administration officials have been repeatedly asked whether Assad retains legitimacy, and US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton found herself faced with this question during a press conference with the Danish foreign minister during an Arctic Council meeting in Greenland Thursday.

“We have watched with great consternation and concern as events have unfolded under his leadership in Syria, and we are working with our international partners to make as strong a case as possible to sanction those who are leading and implementing the policies that are coming from the government,” she said in response.

“We’re going to hold the Syrian Government accountable. Now, how that happens and what the timeline is is something that we are working on as we speak.”


Earlier, in prepared remarks, Clinton said that “the recent events in Syria make clear that the country cannot return to the way it was before.”

She added that “relying on Iran as your best friend and your only strategic ally is not a viable way forward. Syria’s future will only be secured by a government that reflects the popular will of all of the people and protects their welfare.”

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