Gaza Flotilla Delayed /All on Board Except Turkey

The "Free Gaza" flotilla has gotten intensive talks going between Israel and Egypt, as well as with Turkey. And now relations are rattled with Ankara once again.

Turkey has tried to make out that it is not involved in organizing the flotilla, but statements by the Foreign Ministry in Ankara have made it obvious that this project has been very dear to the government's heart. In its declarations, the Turkish Foreign Ministry has reiterated that the Israeli government must view the flotilla as a humanitarian operation and "use sound judgment." Moreover, Turkey says that allowing the flotilla to enter Gaza would be seen as a positive step; it would also help end the Middle East conflict.

The Israeli government has used Turkey's political maneuver in talks with the government of Cyprus, which along with Greece has replaced Turkey as Israel's friend. It appears that talks with Cyprus bore fruit yesterday when it refused to allow one of the ships to dock and take on board dozens of members of foreign parliaments. They had been waiting on the island for two days.

Cyprus has announced that it has barred ships heading for Gaza to approach within 20 nautical miles of the Cypriot coast, and it referred to "vital national interests" in explaining its decision.

An official Turkish source told Haaretz yesterday that "Israel is making a mistake if it thinks that Cyprus or Greece could serve it in its Middle East policy in place of Turkey. But it seems that their decision is to switch sides, and this might also find expression in Turkey's future policy toward Israel."

While the flotilla is straining relations with Turkey, the talks with Egypt revolve around coordinating activities in ensuring that the ships do not reach the Gaza Strip. Egypt has so far avoided denouncing Israel's military preparations to foil the breach of the blockade, and its Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that Egypt supports aid to Gaza as long as "well-known preconditions" are met.

The rules were set by Egypt when a similar aid attempt was made in January. Then Egypt refused to allow an aid convoy to enter its territory from Aqaba, forcing it to return to Syria and then travel to the port of El Arish. From there, trucks made their way to the Rafah crossing.

Egypt has made it clear to Israel that if the flotilla's organizers decide to anchor at El Arish instead of going directly to Gaza, Cairo would handle the matter as it did with previous convoys, and in coordination with Israel.