Turkey Foreign Minister Urges Organizers to Reconsider Gaza Flotilla

Ahmet Davutoglu says he has advised the IHH to wait and see how the Rafah border crossing has affected Gaza, but cannot stop the group if they disregard his request.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday advised the organizers of a Gaza aid flotilla planning to set sail later this month, to "wait" and reconsider their plan in light of the changes in the Gaza Strip.

This is the first time Davutoglu suggested flotilla organizers should reconsider their plans.

Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoglu, AP

The Turkish minister told reporters that he urged the flotilla's organizers to see how the Egyptian opening of the Rafah border crossing with Gaza has affected the situation in the coastal strip before heading toward the area, Turkish daily Zaman reported.

Davutoglu also reiterated that the flotilla was organized by a non-government group, the Humanitarian Aid Foundation (İHH), and therefore there was no legal way to stop the actual departure of the ship.

The IHH also played a leading role in the Gaza aid flotilla that set sail for the Gaza Strip last year, during which nine Turkish activists died in a confrontation with navy commandos.

Israel is preparing to block the next flotilla as well as it maintains a naval siege on the Gaza Strip. However, immediately after the flotilla incident in May 2010, Israel changed its position dramatically regarding the amount and extent of goods allowed into the Gaza Strip. Egypt's reopening of the Rafah border crossing removes the rest of the coordinated siege both states had imposed on Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said that Israel prefers a diplomatic move to thwart the flotilla expected at the end of June, but if necessary would exercise force against anyone who tries to disobey the navy's orders and heads to Gaza's shore.

Meanwhile, several Turkish leaders have lined up to condemn an editorial in leading magazinethe Economist, that urged voters to back the opposition in Sunday's election, calling it part of an anti-democratic, pro-Israeli campaign to weaken Turkey.

Opinion polls indicate Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's AK Party will comfortably secure a third term.

Erdogan himself said the article showed Israeli influence.

"The international media, because they are backed by Israel, wouldn't be happy with the continuation of the AK Party government," Erdogan said, according to comments reported by the state-run Anatolian agency at the weekend.

In an editorial entitled "One for the opposition", the avowedly pro-free-market, pro-democracy Economist, which regularly expresses a party preference in advance of elections, wrote: "The best way for Turks to promote democracy would be to vote against the ruling party."

Relations between Turkey and Israel, which had already gone from friendly to strained after Israel's war in the Gaza Strip, broke down completely a year ago after the Israeli raid on the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi-Marmara carrying aid for Gaza.