31st of May has been declared as the World Solidarity Day With Gaza by the world campaign for the support of women boats to Gaza, in commemoration of the sixth anniversary of the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara flotilla. On May 31st 2010, nine Turkish activists were killed by Israeli navy commandos on the Marmara freedom flotilla as they were sailing to break the Israeli siege on Gaza and bring humanitarian aid and construction materials. A tenth activist died from injuries four years later.
The Marmara was part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla organised by the Free Gaza Movement and the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief. The flotilla was the Free Gaza Movement’s ninth attempt to break the naval blockade on Gaza. There were 663 passengers from 37 nations, including politicians, activists, and other notable figures. 600 passengers were on the Mavi Marmara alone. The raid on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla drew widespread condemnation internationally and resulted in a deterioration of Israel-Turkey relations for the past six years.
In the last six months, Turkey and Israel have been working to normalise their relations. Turkey set out a number of conditions for the return of relations with Israel, including receiving an apology for the killing of Turkish activists; paying compensation to the victim’s families and lifting the siege on Gaza. The first two conditions have since been met. Israel demanded ambassadors to be reinstated in Israel, the dropping of legal claims against Israel related to the Gaza Flotilla incident and the expelling of senior Hamas member Saleh al-Arouri.
Although Turkey has been said to be “driving a hard bargain” particularly around the issue of lifting the Gaza siege, it appears to be softening its stance and wants to restore full relations with Israel, as a result of its political friction with Russia. This is evident from Turkey lifting its veto to Israel opening an office at the NATO’s Brussels headquarters. The Israeli office had previously been blocked by Turkey, as the move requires unanimous consent from all 28 NATO members.
Another major aspect of the reinstating of full Israel-Turkish relations is Turkey’s need to secure new source of natural gas following the crisis caused by recent tensions with Russia. Turkey has been reliant on Russia for more than half its gas imports. Officials have agreed to discuss laying a gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey “in the near future”.
The question on lifting the siege of Gaza remains the final hurdle before full relations between Turkey and Israel are restored. John Reed from the Financial Times reported ” Finalisation of an accord between the two countries has stalled, in part over details of what Israel will do — or allow Turkey to do — in Gaza.”
He added “Israeli authorities are prepared to make some kind of gesture toward easing the tight border and economic controls it keeps on Gaza, but also say they need to maintain controls on trade with the enclave to stop arms reaching Hamas. Lifting the blockade is not on the cards but ideas for easing Gaza’s predicament include allowing a floating power generator on a Turkish ship moored off the Gaza coast.”
Gaza has been often described as the world’s largest open prison by world leaders, including UN officials, and is one of the longest blockades in human history. A UN report published last September warned that, if current trends persist, Gaza could become “uninhabitable” by 2020. The nine year siege and blockade has had deeply harmful psychological, social, economic and humanitarian impacts on the people living in Gaza.
On Sunday, thousands of Turkish citizens and activists joined in a march commemorating the Mavi Marmara massacre and called for the breaking the Israeli siege on Gaza.
Dr. Issam Yousuf, head of the world popular committee for the support of Gaza, said in a press statement: “The siege is a massive punishment and a crime against humanity in Palestine”, and called for tabling the Israeli crimes at the international courts in order to prosecute Israeli army and political leaders.
Yousuf also called for massive action to end the Israeli siege on the Gaza Strip and asked the international community to protect the women boats heading to Gaza and guarantee their arrival to the strip. He also urged for adopting the Palestinian demands of establishing a harbor in Gaza and providing the floating power plant. He also called on Egypt to open Rafah border crossing and to establish a commercial zone with Gaza Strip.
Coordinator of the National Movement to break the Siege on Gaza, Alaa al-Batta, urged the international community and the World Humanitarian Summit held in Turkey in the presence of the UN Chief Ban Ki-moon and the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to take serious action to lift the illegal siege.
Al-Batta also called on the Palestinian diasporas the world’s activists to join the International Week to Lift the Siege on Gaza starting today.[Source: EuroPal Forum]