Turkish ship sets sail with aid for Gaza

In wake of Israel-Turkey reconciliation deal, ‘Lady Leyla,’ loaded with food and toys, set to dock at Ashdod on Saturday night

Illustrative: A Turkish ship with an IHH banner heading toward Gaza in 2010. (Moti Milrod/Pool/Flash90)
Illustrative: A Turkish ship with an IHH banner heading toward Gaza in 2010. (Moti Milrod/Pool/Flash90)

ANKARA, Turkey — A Turkish ship left for Israel on Friday carrying aid for Gaza as part of a deal between Ankara and the Jewish state to mend ties after years of acrimony.

Turkey and Israel were formerly close regional allies, but fell out in 2010 when Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists when they came under attack as they sought to commandeer a Turkish vessel that was seeking to breach the security blockade on Hamas-run Gaza.

As part of a breakthrough deal reached this week to restore relations, Turkey will send regular humanitarian aid to Gaza’s Palestinian residents via Israel.

The Lady Leyla, a Panama-flagged ship loaded with over 10,000 tonnes of supplies including food and toys, set off from the southern port of Mersin, television images showed.

The NTV network reported it would take 30 hours to reach Israel and the aid — to be transferred overland from Israel’s Ashdod Port, in accordance with the blockade — would arrive in Gaza before Eid celebrations on Tuesday marking the end of Ramadan.

Turkey’s ruling Islamic-rooted AKP party has friendly ties with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause. But Erdogan earlier this week slammed the organizers of the 2010 flotilla for not having sought his permission to sail, and the reconciliation deal with Israel provides for Turkish aid to reach the Strip via Israel, as Israel has always demanded.

Israel maintains the blockade to prevent terror group Hamas, which took power in Gaza in a 2007 coup against the Palestinian Authority, from importing weaponry to advance its goal of wiping out the Jewish state.

Israel offered an apology and compensation over the deadly raid to secure the thaw with Turkey.

Ankara will also invest in infrastructure projects in Gaza under the plan.

Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said Tuesday that the ship’s departure would be “the first test to see if Israel will play a facilitator role,” in easing the situation in Gaza.

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