Organizer says flotilla to sail even if IHH cancels

Free Gaza activist says Turkish participation desired, but not necessary, flotilla is about 'Gaza occupation' awareness, not humanitarian aid.

The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R) (photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
The 'Mavi Marmara' 311 (R)
(photo credit: Reuters/Emrah Dalkaya)
The second Gaza flotilla will set sail in late June even without the support of Turkey’s IHH – the lead NGO in last year’s flotilla - which is reportedly considering pulling out of the initiative, an organizer told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.
Speaking from Greece, Free Gaza member and International Solidarity Movement co-founder Adam Shapiro said the “Turkish participation is obviously something that we want to have as part of the overall flotilla but if tomorrow they decide to postpone [their participation] then we will continue.”
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Shapiro said all of the other ships taking part in the flotilla are still finishing their preparations and are planning to set sail at the end of the month regardless of a report in the Turkish press on Wednesday that humanitarian relief foundation IHH is considering dropping out of the flotilla to concentrate on the Syrian refugee issue in southern Turkey.
Shapiro said that as opposed to reports that as many as 25 ships would take part in the flotilla, there are only 10 that are scheduled to sail later this month, with around 300 activists from dozens of countries taking part.
Meanwhile, Wednesday, the Israel Navy held a large-scale exercise to prepare its forces for the operation to stop the flotilla.
The exercise involved naval commandos from Flotilla 13 - better known as the Shayetet - as well as other naval units and special forces from throughout the defense establishment, who were being included in the operation as part of the lessons learned from the botched raid on the Mavi Marmara Turkish passenger ship last May.
The Israeli navy is under orders from the government to enforce the Israeli sea blockade over Gaza, which officials have said is crucial for preventing the flow of arms to Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
In recent months, the Navy has reviewed the operation to stop last year’s flotilla and has drawn a number of operational conclusions that it hopes will improve the upcoming operation to stop the new flotilla and prevent or at least minimize the loss of human life.
The Navy has been preparing rigorously for the operation, enlisting all of its Flotilla 13 commandos from the reserves and running different training models with various scenarios, from passive resistance – such as sit-downs – to potential gunfights and booby-trapped ships.
It is also preparing for the possibilities that commandos will encounter passive resistance or mercenaries armed with knives, saws, bats, as well guns.
Shapiro said the final departure date for the flotilla is not known but they are planning to meet in international waters in the eastern Mediterranean at the end of the month and head towards Gaza.
Earlier on Wednesday, Turkish daily Hurriyet quoted IHH spokesman Huseyin Oruc as saying “we are reconsidering our plans. We cannot close our eyes to the developments on our doorstep.
“The international community is talking about an intervention in Syria, a development that would affect Turkey very much, as well as Palestine and peace in the region. All the factors are inter-linked and we must be looking at all of them,” Oruc told the newspaper.
“We will discuss the emerging conditions. Every country has its own balance. From our point of view, the developments in neighboring Syria are critically important,” he said.
Hurriyet also published that the IHH stated that the Turkish government did not force its hand in the decision, even though last week the paper quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmed Davutoglu as saying that “Israel should wait for a new Palestinian government to be set up and then lift the blockade on Gaza. The aid flotilla should also wait to see what happens with the Rafah border crossing being opened and to see how Israel perceives the new government.”
As of early this week, thousands of Syrian refugees had streamed into southern Turkey as the Assad regime stepped up its violent crackdown on the popular uprising that broke out in March.
Turkey has vowed to continue to help the refugees, but there are indications that they are anxious for the international community to help find a solution to the issue. The IHH’s reluctance puts into question whether the Mavi Marmara will sail for Gaza in late June as was originally planned.
Oruc said the IHH would make a decision by the end of the week.
When asked whether or not Egypt’s opening of the Rafah border crossing earlier this month has led to criticism of the flotilla, Shapiro said that Rafah “has not enabled any aid to actually get in. They’re allowing women and children and men over 40 to get out.”
He said the Rafah crossing “is not about aid, but then neither is our flotilla. It’s about raising awareness of the ongoing occupation in Gaza and the freedom of the Palestinians. The aid has always been secondary to the message of challenging the [Israeli] policy.”
Israeli human rights group Shurat Ha Din took credit for the cancelation of a French boat that was supposed to take part in the flotilla, but won't sail because they were not able to secure insurance. French CMA CGM insurance and shipping company were going to insure the boat - the "Fleet of Freedom 2" but decided not to after recieving a letter from the group warning them of an impending lawsuit if they did.