Less than six months after an international flotilla failed to break the Gaza blockade, and for the most part failed to get out the door due in part to a strong international pressure campaign launched by Israel and its supporters, another vessel – the “Flotilla of Freedom 2” is said to depart Turkey on Sunday.
Not much has been publicized about this latest effort. Organizers told journalists they were hoping to prevent a repeat of thwarted efforts earlier this year. Still, in hopes of documenting any possible confrontation, select international media have been invited to travel with the vessel as it heads to the besieged Gaza Strip.
Speaking last week, Bulent Yildirim, chairman of one of the groups that had been involved in previous flotillas, the Turkish NGO Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), told journalists that the flotilla “will sail, despite an Israeli embargo.” His deputy, Huseyin Oruc, added that representatives from 22 nongovernmental organizations will also be on-board, along with humanitarian aid for the Palestinian residents of Gaza. Despite those comments, however, an IHH official told +972 on Wednesday that the organization had no knowledge of a flotilla readying to set sail in coming days.
Unconfirmed reports suggested the flotilla might be accompanied by vessels from the Turkish navy, a move that would be perceived as a serious provocation by Israel. The two countries in recent years coordinated extensively on military exercises. But following Israel’s deadly raid on the first flotilla in May 2010, which left nine people dead, relations steadily cooled. The government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, re-elected this year, insists that Israel publicly apologize for the incident and compensate the families of the victims, a move Israel has repeatedly rejected.
In recent days, following the deadly earthquake which struck southeastern Turkey, Israel offered aid to assist in the rescue efforts. The gesture was accepted by Turkish President Abdullah Gul on a humanitarian basis. It was perceived in Israel that the move could ease tensions between the two military giants. But whatever diplomatic progress it may achieve, if any, will be tested should another confrontation-at-sea occur.
**** UPDATED 27 OCTOBER 2011 @ 0730GMT ****
The Free Gaza Movement, a coalition of various groups, has told +972 that no flotilla will sail to Gaza on Sunday, and that for now it has not announced plans for another flotilla. The representative added:
All of the boats belonging to these campaigns and more are scattered around the Mediterranean and will some day sail to Gaza. Hopefully it will be to an open Gaza, as indeed Israel no longer has an excuse for maintaining its criminal blockade — Shalit has been released and rockets are not being fired from Gaza.
This response was received before a number of grad rockets landed in an open area near the southern Israel near the city of Ashdod. The Israeli Air Force responded with at least three strikes on the Strip.