The organization behind the deadly encounter between Turkish activists and Israeli soldiers on the Mediterranean Sea on May 31st has announced plans for a second flotilla that will depart for Gaza on the same ship on the same day next year.
"The fate of the Mavi Marmara will be determined by its owners' conscience," said Ümit Sönmez, production branch coordinator of the Turkish group IHH at a rally held Sunday in Istanbul. "We will organize another trip to Gaza on May 31, the same date the raid happened this year, with a larger crew to draw interest to the embargo one more time."
As many as 50 ships will accompany the Mavi Marmara on the next flotilla to Gaza, Sönmez said.
Thousands of people from approximately 50 countries attended the celebration at Istanbul's Sarayburnu port. The crowd waved Palestinian, Turkish and Hamas flags, chanting "Down with Israel" and "Allah is great."
Among those who delivered speeches at the ceremony include IHH President Bülent Yildirim, Free Gaza Movement Legal Advisor Audrey Bomse, Viva Palestina leader Muhammad Sawalha and Mazen Kahel from the London-based European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza.
"Israel says, 'Stay away from us, and leave us alone.' We ask it to stay away from Palestine so that we can stay away from it. As long as Israel continues its blockade of Gaza, we will set sail to Gaza with new ships," Yildirim told the audience.
The blockade of Gaza, meant to weaken the Hamas government and stop it from arming, has been dramatically relaxed.
Yildirim, who openly supports Hamas, prepared the Turkish IHH operatives on the Mavi Marmara to engage the Israeli soldiers violently. The incident, which left nine Turkish activists dead, triggered tensions between the two countries that remain unresolved.
Yildirim's organization IHH has assisted al-Qaida and supported jihadi operations in Bosnia and Afghanistan in the 1990s. The U.S. government has verified that IHH has ties to Hamas, and the State Department has considered designating the Turkish NGO as a terrorist organization.
The Free Gaza Movement (FGM) and the London-based European Campaign to End the Siege on Gaza (ECESG) organized the May Freedom Flotilla, along with IHH and groups based in Greece and Sweden. FGM, ECESG and IHH will again lead Freedom Flotilla II in May, 2011, along with groups from countries including the UK, Spain, Greece, Sweden, Italy, Canada, the United States, and others.