ISTANBUL, Turkey — A Turkish aid group said on Monday it would send a new flotilla of ships to challenge Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza, four years after the deadly storming of one of its vessel by Israeli commandos.
The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), which organized the first flotilla, said in a statement that activists from 12 countries had met in Istanbul and made the decision to send the ships “in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza.”
“As most governments are complicit, the responsibility falls on civil society to challenge the Israeli blockade on Gaza,” it said.
The IHH would hold a press conference on Tuesday, it added. The group is considered to be close to the Turkish government.
Last month a Gulf Online report published in English by The Middle East Monitor claimed IHH chairman Bulent Yildrim had said that “Turkish army troops will accompany the ships to protect [them] from any potential attack.”
In May 2010, the Mavi Marmara ferry was boarded by Israeli commandos as it attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing melee, after the Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars and wooden bats, troops opened fire and nine Turkish activists were killed; 10 Israeli soldiers were injured. Israel designates the IHH as a terrorist organization.
The incident triggered a crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey, which were already strained since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at then president Shimon Peres at the Davos Economic Forum, telling him: “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches.”
Turkish-Israeli ties have yet to recover and they continue to be shaky, with Turkish officials often unleashing scathing criticism of Israel.
As part of an ongoing criminal trial brought by the IHH and the victims’ families in 2012, a Turkish court in May ordered the arrest of four former Israeli military chiefs involved in the raid.
Talks on compensation began a year ago after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey in a breakthrough brokered by US President Barack Obama.
But they stalled after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who sees himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and is now the president-elect, stepped up his rhetoric against Israel in the wake of the IDF’s recent Operation Protective Edge in Gaza.
Erdogan last week accused Israel of being “more barbaric than Hitler” during the military campaign, that it launched on July 8, aimed at stopping rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli cities and destroying tunnels, dug under the border by Hamas, that were used by terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and carry out deadly attacks.
Times of Israel contributed to this report.