Turkish Organization May Cancel Gaza Flotilla as IDF Prepares at Sea

The IHH cited tension along the Turkish-Syrian border as the reason it may not set sail to the Gaza Strip later this month; IDF conducts large naval drill in preparation.

The Turkish organization IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation) is considering the cancelation of the Gaza flotilla due to the tensions along the Syrian-Turkish border, Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper reported Wednesday.

“We are reconsidering our plans. We cannot close our eyes to the developments on our doorstep,” Hüseyin Oruç, a board member of the IHH, told the newspaper.

Israel Navy forces approaching the Mavi Marmara bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010.

The Israeli Defense Force will conduct a naval training exercise on Wednesday, focusing on intercepting and boarding a large ship. The Israeli government has made it clear it will not let the ships break the naval siege on Gaza, and will take them over by force if necessary. Following the deadly boarding of the Mavi Marmara last May, the IDF is preparing a larger force which will be dispatched more quickly.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said last month Israel prefers a diplomatic move to thwart the flotilla, but if necessary would exercise force against anyone who tries to disobey the navy's orders and head to Gaza's shore.

22 different ships are ready to rendezvous in international waters south of Cyprus, and sail to Gaza. Oruc said the activists will meet in Athens 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."

The organization insists that the Turkish government is not involved in the flotilla, yet it is likely that Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu's call to reconsider the operation has had an effect. Davutoglu said earlier this month that the organizers should wait and see if the situation in Gaza changes.

He reiterated Turkey's long-standing position, saying that since the flotilla is organized by non-governmental organizations there is no legal way of preventing its launch. Nevertheless, the Turkish FM called on the organizers to take into account recent developments such as the removal of the Egyptian siege over the Gaza Strip, the opening of Rafah crossing and the new Palestinian unity government, which may affect the humanitarian situation in Gaza.

Over 7,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Turkey so far, following the Syrian army's crackdown on the town of Jisr al-Shughour. Turkey is considering creating a buffer zone on the border between the two countries, in case the bloody repression of demonstrations continues and the flow of refugees increases.