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Turkish group may pass up Gaza flotilla mission

- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Turkish activists are reconsidering their participation in a flotilla to the Gaza Strip this month, after a similar effort to challenge Israel's blockade last year ended in a deadly clash with Israeli forces.

Organizers of "Freedom Flotilla II" told The Washington Times on Wednesday that the flood of Syrian refugees into Turkey had compelled the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) to consider canceling or scaling back its participation.

"Of course, there are many important issues in the agenda of humanitarian NGOs — what's going on at the Syrian border and the crisis in Gaza — and we do our best to respond to all the crises, to reach the oppressed and victimized people and deliver their basic needs," said Izzet Shahin, IHH's international relations coordinator.

Mr. Shahin said that, given IHH's limited resources, the group had to consider the "level of emergency" in various conflict zones. "Some are more urgent than others," he said.

About 8,500 Syrian refugees have streamed across the Turkish border in recent weeks to escape President Bashar Assad's crackdown on anti-government protesters.

Mr. Shahin said that "meetings are going on" and that the group would hold a press conference "tomorrow or the day after tomorrow" to announce its plans.

News of IHH's second thoughts was first reported Wednesday by the Hurriyet Daily News.

Nine Turkish passengers on the IHH-chartered Mavi Marmara died on May 31 last year in a clash with Israeli commandos who sought to board the ship, causing a diplomatic rift between longtime allies Turkey and Israel.

Israel has refused Turkish demands for an official state apology over the deaths, saying the commandos acted in self-defense.

Jerusalem has said it will continue to enforce its naval blockade of the Hamas-controlled territory, forcibily intercepting boats if necessary.

Mr. Shahin also told The Times that the questionable condition of the Mavi Marmara was another factor weighing on the group's participation.

"It was damaged completely, and it may take some more time to prepare it," Mr. Shahin said.

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