Israel to Release Turkey Ships Seized During Gaza Flotilla Raid

Turkey has formally asked Israel a number of times to free vessels; Spanish activists aboard Mavi Marmara to sue Israel for crimes against humanity.

Israel has decided to release three Turkish-owned ships that took part in a humanitarian aid flotilla raided by the navy en route to the Gaza Strip two months ago.

The Israel Navy raid sparked international outcry and escalated tensions with Turkey after nine activists were killed and several more wounded.

Gaza flotilla ship

The navy had dropped commandos onto the ships after the activists refused Israel's offer to dock at the Ashdod Port and have their cargo transferred to Gaza. The commandos came under attack the moment they entered the vessel, and three of the soldiers were seriously wounded.

The ships were subsequently towed to Israel's harbors and have been sitting in the Ashdod and Haifa ports since then. The Turkey embassy has officially asked the Foreign Ministry on a number of occasions to release the vessels, which are owned by non-governmental companies in Turkey.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman finally acceded to the request during deliberations on Thursday. In the past, Israel had said it would agree only if Turkey could guarantee that the ships would never again be used in a flotilla aimed at breaking the Gaza blockade.

No such condition was given this time around.

The Defense Ministry will coordinate with a Turkish delegation to see a fleet of tow vessels brought over from Turkey in the coming days to pick up the three ships.

Relations between Israel and Turkey – once close allies – have soured in the wake of the raid, after an already tense year over the Israel Defense Forces' 2008-2009 offensive on Gaza.

Israel has refused Turkey's demand to apologize for the raid and compensate the families of the victims, though it has said that it regretted the loss of life.

Meanwhile, three Spanish activists who were aboard the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara ship during the raid plan to file a law suit against Israel for alleged crimes against humanity.

The 83-page document takes aim at Netanyahu, his forum of top six cabinet ministers and the Israel Navy.

The three Spanish activists told the Republica newspaper that Israel had arrested them illegally and deported them by force, after subjecting them to hardships during the raid.