Turkish ship, seized by Israel in flotilla violence in May, arrives in Turkish port

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Turkish protest ship returns home

ISTANBUL — The ship seized by Israel in a deadly raid as it carried aid to the Gaza Strip in May returned to Turkey on Saturday. A pro-Palestinian activist said it would send more aid ships unless Israel lifts its Gaza blockade.

Turkish television showed the Mavi Marmara arriving at the Mediterranean port of Iskenderun after leaving the Israeli port of Haifa on Thursday. Two other Turkish vessels released by Israel also arrived.

The ships had been part of a flotilla sailing toward Gaza to protest Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled territory.

Israeli troops intercepted the boats on May 31 and clashed with activists on the Mavi Marmara, leaving nine people dead.

IHH, an Islamic charity in Turkey, was a key organizer of the flotilla. Huseyin Oruc, a charity director, described the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara as “absolute piracy” that was more lethal than Somali piracy off the Horn of Africa.

He said activists from all over the world would continue to press Israel to lift restrictions on Gaza.

“We will all unite and go again and again until this blockage is completely lifted,” Oruc said in a news conference at the harbor where the Mavi Marmara docked.

On Wednesday, European representatives of the Freedom Flotilla Coalition, an umbrella group, met in Stockholm to plan a new Gaza flotilla with up to 12 ships.

The bloodshed on the Turkish ship provoked an international outcry, and Israel agreed to an international investigation. Israeli authorities have said their forces acted in self-defense on boarding the Mavi Marmara, though an Israeli military report acknowledged flaws in intelligence-gathering and planning.

Israel has eased its blockade of the Gaza Strip, though critics allege the changes are cosmetic. Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas militants seized power there three years ago. It has said the step was needed to prevent Hamas from arming, but the blockade has brought Gaza’s economy to a virtual standstill.

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