The Hamas-tied Turkish group behind last year's deadly flotilla confrontation with Israeli commandos in the Mediterranean Sea announced Friday that it will not participate in an upcoming flotilla sailing to Gaza at the end of this month.
IHH's decision not to include the Mavi Marmara ship is based on "technical problems … It has nothing to do with the government or state," IHH head Bulent Yildirim said Friday at a press conference in Istanbul. When the ship is repaired, IHH will try to sail it to Gaza then, he said.
Other sources say pressure from the Turkish government led to IHH's decision to cancel its plans. "The Turkish government has been discouraging the IHH through indirect channels from sailing to Gaza." Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News reported Thursday. The Turkish government cited the Syrian refugee issue as a reason for the group not to sail, "although the United States' pressure on Turkey to stop the flotilla is another important factor," the Daily News wrote.
On Tuesday, an IHH official said growing instability in Syria caused the group to reconsider its plans.
The Daily News reported Wednesday a split was created within IHH, with some members of the nationalist wing insisting on sending the Mavi Marmara, while others closer to government officials reluctant to do so given Ankara's request earlier this month that the organization reconsider its plans to avoid a repetition of last year's conflict.
Last year's flotilla ended violently when passengers on the Mavi Marmara attacked Israeli commandos with knives, clubs and other weapons. Nine activists were killed in the ensuing confrontation. Yildirim prepared activists in advance to attack Israeli soldiers.
Israel imposed an embargo on Gaza after Hamas seized power there and began firing rockets at Israeli communities. The intent was to stem the flow of weapons to Gaza.
Flotilla backers want that embargo broken. Former Hamas leader Mohammed Sawalha, who heads one of the main groups organizing the flotilla, said "Our fight will continue until the embargo has ended."
Turkish and IHH representatives would be joining Freedom Flotilla II on other ships, Yildirim said, but he personally would not sail without the Mavi Marmara. Flotilla organizers from countries including the United States, the UK, Sweden and Greece also attended Friday's press conference.