'Martyr' cry as Marmara docks

By Sami Kohen, December 29, 2010
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A crowd waves Palestinian flags as they welcome the Mavi Marmara, which returned to Istanbul last Saturday

A crowd waves Palestinian flags as they welcome the Mavi Marmara, which returned to Istanbul last Saturday

A large crowd waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Israeli slogans welcomed the Mavi Marmara, the Gaza-bound ship on which nine Turkish nationals died after a clash with Israeli commandos last May, as she docked at Istanbul port on Saturday.

The crowd included close relatives and friends of those who were killed, and a ceremony at was held the port to venerate the nine "martyrs", as they are widely known in Turkey.

The demonstration was organised by the IHH (Humanitarian Relief Foundation), a Turkish NGO with strong Islamist tendencies and had led the flotilla last spring.

The organisation has strong links to the Muslim and Turkish populations in Europe, but it is banned in many countries, including Germany, for carrying out "terrorist" activities.

The ruling Justice and Developments Party (AKP) of Turkey denies having any links with the IHH. However, some of its members and even parliamentarian, are known to sympathise with and support the IHH.

Since the Mavi Marmara incident, the IHH has become hugely popular in Turkey. The organisation's leader, Bulent Yildirim, addressed the crowd and said he will keep up his struggle until Israel ends its blockade on Gaza.

Mr Yildirim also announced that the IHH was planning a new, massive flotilla together with many other countries next May in order to commemorate the anniversary of the Mavi Marmara raid.

Meanwhile, tension continues to mount between the Israeli and Turkish governments, with harsh statements by leaders on both sides. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said at a news conference that Turkey wanted to restore good relations with Israel, but stressed that Israel must apologise and pay compensation for what happened during the flotilla operation.

"Turkey has the political will to reconcile with Israel," he said, "but it is very difficult to see the same political will in Israel. There are conflicting signals coming from the Israeli government due to the rivalry in the coalition."

In fact Turkish officials said they deeply disappointed but not surprised by the statements made by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and the Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu this week.

Mr Lieberman used strong language and called Prime Minister Recep Erdogan and Mr Davutoglu liars.

Although Mr Netanyahu distanced himself from Mr Lieberman's statements, he still stressed that Israel will not apologise to Turkey for what had happened.

Last updated: 3:05pm, December 29 2010