Gaza Flotilla Will Still Sail, Say Organizers, With or Without Turkish Group

Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation expected to make final decision on whether or not to participate over next day or two.

Organizers of the Gaza flotilla said Wednesday that they are determined to set sail even if the heads of the Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH ) do not participate. The flotilla is currently scheduled to depart in one week to mark the anniversary of last year's raid by Israel on the Gaza-bound flotilla, in which nine Turkish activists died.

"The Israeli attempt to link the flotilla to the desires of only the Turks is an intentional deception intended to influence public opinion," said sources from the coalition behind the flotilla.

IHH, Flotilla - Reuters - 15.6.11

While Turkish participation is crucial, that does not mean the flotilla will be canceled if the Turks do not participate, the sources said. The IHH is considering whether to back out of the Gaza flotilla because of tensions along the Syrian-Turkish border, Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper reported yesterday. "We are reconsidering our plans," IHH board member Huseyin Oruc told the newspaper. "We cannot close our eyes to the developments on our doorstep," he said, referring to events in Syria.

It is growing more and more likely that the IHH will cancel or postpone the flotilla, according to a source in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. Oruc's statements are the most recent in a series of indications that the IHH is interested in canceling or rescheduling the flotilla.

The number of flotilla participants could shrink significantly if the Turkish activists pull out. Preliminary estimates projected 1,000 participants, 500 of whom would sail on the IHH's Mavi Marmara.

The final decision on Turkish participation is expected today or tomorrow. However, political pressure makes it unlikely the IHH will participate.

The Coalition to Break the Blockade on Gaza is scheduled to hold discussions in Athens over the weekend in an effort to reach a final decision on the flotilla. Most coalition members appear to be in favor of sailing the flotilla regardless of the Turkish decision.

Oruc said the activists will join the Athens discussions this weekend. "We will discuss the current situation," he said. "Each country has a different position, but for us the developments in neighboring Syria are of the greatest importance."

Hesitation by the Turks is the result of internal political motives and has no connection with logistical arrangements for the flotilla, said Dr. Arafat Madi, head of the European Campaign to End the Siege of Gaza. Madi, who is based in London, said in an interview yesterday with Al-Shams Radio, which broadcasts from Nazareth, that a number of ships are already preparing to sail with activists from the United States, Canada and numerous Arab and European nations. He declined to provide details about the number of ships or passengers, or which ports they would be leaving from and when.

Senior IHH officials have asked the heads of the Turkish Jewish community over the past few days to send a message to Israel indicating that they are not interested in a repeat of last year's conflict with the Israel Defense Forces. Senior IHH officials expressed interest in reaching some form of agreement with Israel over transporting humanitarian aid to Gaza.

IHH officials also have spoken in recent days about technical problems with the Mavi Marmara, which could lead to a month-long delay for the flotilla.

A Foreign Ministry official said the Turkish change in position is the result of heavy pressure from the U.S. government. U.S. President Barack Obama is scheduled to speak with newly re-elected Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and congratulate him on his victory. The United States has told Israel that Obama will ask Erdogan to stop the flotilla.