Gaza flotilla anniversary - AP - 30.5.2011
Pro-Palestinian Turkish activists gathered on the deck of the newly refurbished Mavi Marmara, marking the one year anniversary of Israel's interception of a Gaza-bound flotilla, May 30, 2011. Photo by AP
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Pro-Palestinian activists in Istanbul Monday marked the first anniversary of the Israeli commando raid on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara as it tried to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Nine Turkish passengers on the ship, which was part of a larger Gaza-bound flotilla, were killed in the confrontation. The Mavi Marmara has been refitted and is due to sail for Gaza one more time next month.

An international coalition of activists said Egypt's opening of the Rafah crossing last weekend will not affect plans for a new flotilla. The move effectively ends the four-year closure on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

The ships are due to depart from various European ports in an attempt to breach Israel's sea blockade. Israel has said the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the territory.

Vangelis Pisias, a Greek organizer, told a news conference aboard the Mavi Marmara that a new aid convoy would sail in 20 days. IHH, the Islamic aid group that operates the ship, said the third week of June was the target date for the flotilla's departure.

That would allow Turkey to proceed with parliamentary elections on June 12 without concern that a confrontation at sea would distract voters and the country's leaders. Israeli military officials have said troops have been training for months to intercept any flotilla.

Lubna Massarwa, an activist who was a passenger a year ago on the Mavi Marmara, told Haaretz that next month's flotilla would include nine ships in addition to the Mavi Marmara, among them vessels from Turkey, the United States, Canada, Spain, France and Sweden. She said that among the passengers on the flotilla would be a group of American Jews.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday called for the activists to be discouraged from setting sail for Gaza, but Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said it was not within the authority of a democracy to prevent private challenges to what he said was an illegal blockade.

Among those attending commemorations in Istanbul marking a year since the confrontation were the chairman of the Arab Higher Monitoring Committee of Israeli Arabs, Mohammed Zeidan, as well as the heads of the two branches of the Islamic movement in Israel, Sheikh Raed Salah and Sheikh Hamad Abu Daabes. The three, along with MK Hanin Zuabi (Balad ), were passengers on last year's flotilla.

Zuabi is currently in the United States, where she is delivering a series of lectures marking the anniversary of the flotilla and the Nakba - Arabic for the catastrophe some Arabs consider the establishment of the State of Israel. She said she had not been invited to the commemoration in Istanbul, but would accept if invited to sail on a flotilla next month.

She called the protest a humanitarian move that sends a clear political message on lifting the blockade and ending the occupation. Zeidan that if he received an invitation, he would ask his organization to decide who would take part in a second flotilla.

One indication of the Turkish stance on a possible thawing of relations with Israel is whether the Turkish ambassador designate to Israel, Kerim Uras, is actually posted here or whether he is assigned to serve in Austria. An announcement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry is expected today.

He was appointed to serve in the embassy in Tel Aviv before last year's confrontation on the Mavi Marmara, but never assumed office. The United States has been putting pressure on the Turks to have an ambassador assume his post and not oppose the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador in Ankara after Gaby Levy ends his term in Turkey.