Turkey: Stopping Gaza flotilla 'not our concern'

Turkish Foreign Ministry says flotilla is "initiative by civil society"; UN envoy Reuben urges Ban to make public statements against participation.

By REUTERS,
April 14, 2011 21:28
3 minute read.
The 'Mavi Marmara'

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R). (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)

 
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ANKARA - Turkey said on Thursday it had received a request from Israel to help stop activists sailing to Gaza on the first anniversary of the IDF raid on a Turkish ship, but it said the flotilla plan was not Ankara's concern.

The Free Gaza Movement, a pro-Palestinian activist umbrella group, has said that a flotilla expected in late May would comprise 15 ships with international passengers including Europeans and Americans.

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Nine Turks were left dead in the May 31 clash when IDF marines stormed a flotilla organized by a Turkish Islamist group.

Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Gaby Levy, asked the Turkish government this week to help stop the activists, saying sending humanitarian aid to Gaza outside legal channels was a "provocation," an Israeli diplomatic official told Reuters.

Asked about the request, a Turkish foreign ministry official told Reuters: "We listened to the message given by the Israeli side and told them this is an initiative by civil society." The official did not elaborate.

The IHH, the Turkish Islamist group that owned the Mavi Marmara ship which was raided by the IDF, has said it will join the "Freedom Flotilla II". It also plans to send its own convoy led by the Mavi Marmara after Turkey's general election on June 12.

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With Israel eager to leave a paper trail showing it warned world leaders to prevent the flotilla, Israel's UN envoy Meron Reuben sent a letter Thursday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon urging him to make public statements against participation in the action.

"In the past year, the United Nations, under your leadership, played an important role in preventing the launch of provocative flotillas by extremist elements in Lebanon," the letter read. "A clear message from you and other leaders in the international community on the subject of the anticipated flotilla can have a positive influence in preventing the unnecessary escalation of tension in our troubled region."

Reuben recommended a scheduled April 21 debate in the Security Council on the Middle East as "one possible forum for raising the issue." Both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu have made similar appeals to Ban in recent weeks, as Israel is stepping up its diplomatic efforts to try and keep the flotilla from setting sail.

"Israel," Reuben wrote, "is not interested in confrontation but is firmly determined to enforce the naval blockage – and will continue to remain closely engaged with other members of the international community to try and halt this unnecessary provocation."

Reuben said that the flotilla, which may include some 15 ships and more than 1,000 people, includes "numerous participants" who have made "very troubling statements expressing their willingness to become martyrs in this effort." Reuben said that the chairman of the Turkish based IHH, Bulent Yildrim, said in a recent speech that Zionism is "like a virus that has infected all of humanity."

The Israeli envoy said that the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip remains in force, and that any vessel trying to breach the blockade "may be subject to naval action to enforce the blockade, in accordance with international law applicable to armed conflicts at sea."

The reason for the blockade, Reuben reiterated, was to prevent the illicit trafficking of arms and ammunition to the Gaza strip, such as occurred on March 18 with the interdiction of the Victoria and its shipment of arms from Iran and Syria to terrorist groups in Gaza.

"It is clear that this anticipated flotilla is designed to serve as a political provocation and not to advance a humanitarian goal, Reuben wrote, pointing out that there are established mechanisms through which humanitarian aid can be delivered to the Gaza Strip.

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