Turkish ship with Gaza-bound aid docks at Ashdod, first since reconciliation


A Turkish ship packed with aid for the Gaza Strip arrived in Israel, the first since Turkey and Israel reached a reconciliation deal that allows such transfers.

The cargo ship docking at Ashdod, just north of Gaza, on Sunday afternoon was bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian equipment and food, Haaretz reported.

Israel and Turkey last month agreed to fully reestablish ties ruptured by Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla in 2010. Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish nationals in violent encounters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships attempting to breach a blockade on the strip imposed by Israel after the 2009 Gaza war with Hamas.

As part of the deal, Israel is keeping the blockade in place but is easing the transfer of Turkish aid to the strip.

Israel also will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish nationals. Turkey will press Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers slain during wars with Hamas and two Israeli citizens still being held in the strip.

The families of the slain soldiers and their supporters protested the arrival of the ship, Haaretz reported.

Thousands in Istanbul rally against Israel


Thousands of Turks in Istanbul rallied against Israel Thursday, marking the second anniversary of an Israel Defense Forces raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that was part of a flotilla that claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Israel had determined that the flotilla was violating its blockade of the coastal area, and found weapons aboard.

The Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as IHH and one of the main groups behind the flotilla, organized Thursday’s rally. Israel, the United States and other nations consider the IHH to be a terrorist group.

Protesters in Turkey called for those responsible for the raid to be held accountable, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, a Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid.

Turkey and Israel have not had diplomatic relations since the raid.

Report: U.S. to offer Turkey major role in Mideast talks if it stops Gaza flotilla


The U.S. government is considering to offer Turkey a deal in which Ankara would stop a second Gaza flotilla that is due to depart later this month in exchange for the opportunity to host an Israeli-Palestinian peace summit in Ankara, the Turkish newspaper Today’s Zaman reported Friday.

Israel has been preparing to block the second aid flotilla sailing from Turkey to Gaza, one year after the Israel Defense Forces’ deadly raid on the first Gaza flotilla in which nine Turkish activists died. Turkey has demanded Israel apologize for the raid in order to restore Turkish-Israeli ties.

Today’s Zaman quoted the Turkish Hurriyet daily as reporting that the U.S. was due to officially ask Turkey to host a major peace conference in return for mending its ties with Israel and preventing the second Gaza-bound flotilla. The proposed peace summit would be similar to past major talks such as the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference and the 1993 Oslo Peace Accords.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Netanyahu to UN Chief: Upcoming Gaza flotilla must be stopped


Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon Friday to stop the impending flotilla that is supposed to set sail to the Gaza Strip in May.

The Israeli prime minister told the UN Chief that the flotilla is being organized by extreme Islamists that are interested only in provocation. He added that the ship’s key goal is to fuel tensions, particularly in light of the fact that the Gaza Strip is open to all types of goods brought in via land.

“Hamas is a terrorist organization and Iranian proxy,” Netanyahu said, adding that “it was just recently revealed that part of Iran’s efforts is to arm [Hamas] and smuggle weapons into the strip.”

The prime minister then reminded the UN Chief of the recent incident of the Victoria ship earlier this month, upon which tens of tons of weapons from Iran were found and confiscated by Israel. Netanyahu told Ban that this is proof that Israel must act aggressively against the flotilla.

Read more at Haaretz.com.

Israel seizes ship carrying weapons for Gaza strip [VIDEO]


Israel’s Navy intercepted a ship bound for Egypt that the Israeli military said was smuggling weapons for use by terror organizations in the Gaza Strip.

The Liberia-flagged cargo ship Victoria was seized Tuesday in the Mediterranean Sea 200 miles west of Israel.

“The various weaponry on board the vessel was intended for the use of terror organizations operating in the Gaza Strip,” the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement.

There were “tons” of concealed weapons, Haaretz reported, citing the IDF. The crew did not appear to be aware of the weapons stash, according to reports.

The German-owned ship had left from Turkey’s Mersin port and was headed for Egypt’s Alexandria port; it originated in Syria. Turkey is not tied to the incident, the IDF said.

Story continues after the video.

The Navy brought the ship in to Israel’s port at Ashdod for further inspection, and there was no resistance from the crew, according to the IDF.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, commenting on the ship’s seizure during a visit to Israel’s South, said he approved of the Navy’s interception of the Victoria.

” We had a solid basis that on board the ship was weaponry destined for use against Israel,” he said. “Considerable weaponry, which was destined for terrorist forces in the heart of Gaza, was found on board the vessel. The operation was carried out at sea in accordance with all international rules. The weaponry originated in Iran, which is trying to arm the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has seized ships carrying weapons to Gaza in the past. In 2003, the Israeli military seized the Karine A, which was carrying 50 tons of missiles, mortars, rifles and ammunition to the Gaza Strip.

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