Turkey readies aid for Gaza after historic deal with Israel

DAILY SABAH
ISTANBUL
Published 29.06.2016 20:31
Updated 29.06.2016 20:32
Humanitarian aid packages being loaded on the Lady Leyla, bound for Ashdod, at the port of Mersin.
Humanitarian aid packages being loaded on the Lady Leyla, bound for Ashdod, at the port of Mersin.

Turkey is preparing to dispatch a ship carrying tons of humanitarian aid following the deal to restore ties with Israel, which paved the way to easing Israel's blockade of Gaza

Turkey and Israel recently cemented a deal to restore their strained relations, and Turkey's first step after the deal makes it clear that they have not turned their back on Palestinians despite the normalization of relations.

Turkey will send a cargo vessel full of humanitarian aid on Friday to the Gaza Strip, which has been blockaded by Israel. A total of 11,000 tons of humanitarian aid, including basic staples such as rice and flour as well as toys for children, were loaded onto the ship in the southern port of Mersin yesterday. The Panamanian-flagged Lady Leyla will leave on Friday with relief supplies, as Israel green-lit the delivery of supplies under the deal. Apart from delivery of humanitarian aid, Turkey will carry out projects to rebuild Gaza and improve the lives of thousands who suffered from Israel's attacks on Hamas. Those include the construction of residential buildings and a 200-bed Turkish-Palestinian Friendship Hospital.

The Lady Leyla will dock at the Israeli port of Ashdod in coming days with their cargo including five tons of flour and 2,000 tons of rice aid from the Turkish Grain Board, and packages of sugar donated by Turkish Red Crescent, in addition to toys for Gazan children.

The Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) recently unveiled a $13 million project to build 320 housing units in the Gaza Strip, for Palestinians whose houses were demolished in the 2014 Israeli military offensive. It is just one of hundreds of TİKA-funded projects, ranging from vocational training for the disabled to water wells in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, TİKA has built a hospital and school, and offers humanitarian assistance such as supplying wheelchairs to the disabled. TİKA invested about $400 million over the last 10 years for projects in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem, as well as other parts of the Palestinian territories.

Relations between Turkey and Israel had declined over the past decade as the government in Ankara became more vocal about criticizing Israel's treatment of Palestinians. The final straw came in May 2010 when the Mavi Marmara, among six civilian vessels trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza by delivering aid to Palestinians, was stormed by Israeli commandos. Ten Turkish activists aboard the ship were killed in the raid. Public outrage in Turkey led to massive protests against Israel, and the suspension of diplomatic ties. Turkey formal asked Israel for an apology and compensation for the families of Mavi Marmara raid victims, and demanded the removal of Israel's Gaza blockade as conditions for the normalization of relations. Although Israel was initially stubborn, it eventually accepted talks to restore ties and three years ago, the Israeli government took a step toward reconciliation. On March 24, 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, under the encouragement of U.S. President Barack Obama, apologized for the mishandling of the raid during a conference call with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Talks between Israeli and Turkish officials culminated in a deal announced on Monday. Israel agreed to Turkey's humanitarian presence in Gaza and accepted the payment of $20 million in compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.

President Erdoğan announced hours after the deal was signed that the first aid ship would be sent to Gaza "before Eid," referring to Muslim religious holiday that is expected to fall on July 5. Erdoğan said that Turkey will rebuild Gaza's electrical lines, provide drinking water and address their food, medical and housing needs. He also noted that Turkey will move forward with the construction of an industrial zone in the West Bank.

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