Turkish Ship Involved in Gaza Flotilla Raid Pulls Out of Next Convoy

Turkish group IHH says the Mavi Marmara ship did not get the necessary approval from Turkish port authorities to set sail.

The Turkish Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) announced on Friday that the Mavi Marmara ship will not participate in the Gaza flotilla planned for later this month due to technical reasons.

In a press conference held in Istanbul, IHH members said that port authorities in Turkey did not provide them with the necessary approval for the Mavi Marmara, on which nine Turkish activists were killed last year when it was intercepted by Israeli commandos, to set sail.

Mavi Marmara - AP - Dec. 26, 2010

Ten ships were expected to sail for Gaza on June 25. The original plan was to sail around the first anniversary of the Israeli pre-dawn raid on May 31, 2010.

The ships plan to attempt to breach Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel has said the blockade is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the territory.

Organizers said their decision to exclude the Turkish boat was not a response to appeals from any government. Last week, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu condemned the Israeli blockade and said the Mavi Marmara had the right to sail, but urged activists "to act more carefully and not take steps that could be exploited" by Israel.

He also said non-governmental groups should "take into account" that Egypt's new military rulers had opened Gaza's main gateway to the world, the Rafah terminal, thereby ending a four-year blockade of Gaza that was imposed in coordination with Israel.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon has asked governments to discourage activists from sending a new convoy.

Turkey demands that Israel apologize and pay compensation for last year's flotilla raid, but the possibility of a diplomatic confrontation over a second flotilla could divert Turkey's focus from problems with neighboring Syria. The Turkish government is sheltering nearly 10,000 Syrians who have fled across the border to escape a crackdown on an uprising against President Bashar Assad.

IHH president Bulent Yildirim said pro-Palestinian activists from his group would board other ships in the Gaza-bound flotilla, which includes an American boat, a 40-member Canadian ship and a cargo vessel organized by activists from Greece, Sweden and Norway.

Some of the boats are expected to depart from Greece, and Yildirim acknowledged that Greece's financial problems and widespread anger there over tough new austerity measures had posed a challenge to flotilla preparations.

"There are some problems and crises in European countries, so it might be delayed a few days," he said.

Meanwhile, the Israeli Defense Forces held a large drill on Wednesday in preparation of the flotilla. The drill focused on different scenarios that might occur at sea and methods to deal with them.

The navy does not know when and whether it will need to intercept the flotilla, or how many ships the flotilla will include.