Turkey said Thursday it rebuffed an Israeli request to help stop activists from sailing in a flotilla that aims to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza next month.
"We listened to the message given by the Israeli side and told them this is an initiative by civil society," a Turkish foreign ministry official told Reuters.
Earlier this month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asked United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to help stop the flotilla. "We are aware that there is an attempted provocation in May, possibly early June, of another so-called flotilla, not a peace flotilla but a provocation, a deliberate provocation to seek to ignite this part of the Middle East," Netanyahu told European Union heads of mission in Jerusalem on Monday.
"I think it's in your and our common interest, and I think it's something that you should…transmit to your governments, that this flotilla must be stopped," he added.
Freedom Flotilla II organizers released a statement on Monday saying "we will not be intimidated," following a meeting held in Athens to continue preparations for the flotilla. The press release also called "on all our governments, the international community and the United Nations not to succumb to Israel's intimidation."
The first Freedom Flotilla last May led to a deadly confrontation between Israeli commandos and passengers on the Mavi Marmara, a ship sponsored by the Turkish group IHH. The Hamas-tied group deliberately planned for a violent encounter with Israel under the leadership of IHH head Bulent Yildirim. Islamists on the ship used clubs, knives, chains, axes and other weapons against Israeli commandos who boarded the ship after issuing a series of warnings that it needed to stop.
IHH will join Freedom Flotilla II, which will include approximately 15 ships with participants from 50 countries in May. IHH also plans to send its own flotilla to Gaza led by the Mavi Marmara following the Turkish general elections on June 12.
At an event held in Southern Turkey last week, Yildirim told to an audience of over 1,000 people that "The Mediterranean does not belong to Israel... Just because we have had shahids [martyrs], we are not fearful... We will not step back... Let all know this: Until the blockade on Gaza is lifted... and until our march to al-Aqsa is completed, this sea intifada and land intifada will continue!"
Yildirim continued: "We say this with no hesitation: Our problem is Zionism – which, like a virus, has infected all humanity!"
Yildirim's fiery speech echo his words he said in January at a ceremony in Beirut honoring the Mavi Marmara; the flotilla is not about helping Palestinians in Gaza, but defeating Israel with violence and martyrdom.