Mavi Marmara - AP - Dec. 26, 2010
In this Dec. 26, 2010 file photo, the Mavi Mara ship returns to Istanbul, Turkey. Photo by AP
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The organizers of the upcoming Gaza flotilla spoke openly over the weekend over their disappointment that key Turkish organization IHH has decided to withdraw all participation.

The most surprising development is the withdrawal of the Mavi Marmara, which was at the heart of last year's flotilla raid by IDF commandos when nine Turkish protesters were killed. "It's really difficult to understand the motives behind the cancellation or postponement of the Marmara, even if it's political pressure," one activist in the coalition against the siege on Gaza said.

The official reason for the Marmara's withdrawal, announced by IHH chairman Bulant Yilderim in a press conference on Friday, was that ship repairs were incomplete and various malfunctions meant it would not be able to sail on schedule. Organizers said they believed the Turks may mount a symbolic delegation in lieu of the Marmara and spent last night in urgent consultations.

A source with close knowledge of the flotilla plans said yesterday that other ships were also malfunctioning and it was unclear how many were going to sail. Israel is also pressuring governments - including Canada and France - and organizations to influence delegations not to take part.

General estimates over the weekend were that the number of participants could drop from a thousand to 300, with the number of ships becoming as low as five or eight. This would require a rethink from the organization and cause the cancelation of many participants, both from Europe and from Arab and Muslim states.

The Higher Arab Monitoring Committee, which was supposed to discuss the delegation that would represent it on the flotilla yesterday, took the item off its agenda. A senior committee source said the invitations were mostly from the Turkish organizers, and IHH's withdrawal of the Marmara could mean that the number of committee delegates will drop dramatically. "We are awaiting a new invitation and once participation is relevant again, we'll discuss the delegation," the official said.

Israel, meanwhile, expressed deep satisfaction with the withdrawal of the Marmara. Although the Turkish government would not admit as much, the assumption in Israel is that the cancellation was the result of government pressure applied to IHH.

A Foreign Ministry source said the withdrawal was seen as a positive signal on the part of Turkey. "We hope that this move will provide a new opening to resume the reconciliation between Israel and Turkey," he said.