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Turkey asks flotilla to 'rethink' planned voyage

June 7, 2011 3:31 P.M. (Updated: June 9, 2011 2:08 P.M.)
ANKARA, Turkey (AFP) -- Turkey's foreign minister has called on activists to rethink a planned flotilla to the blockaded Gaza Strip and suggested how to avoid fresh tensions after last year's bloodshed, reports said.

"Civic groups should take into account the fact that the Rafah crossing [between Gaza and Egypt] has been opened and... act in a more careful manner," Ahmet Davutoglu said in remarks carried by Anatolia news agency Tuesday.

The minister however insisted it would be "unacceptable" for the Turkish government to demand independent civic groups abandon the mission, planned for late June with 15 ships from various countries.

In a statement on 10 May, however, when news that the Rafah crossing would shortly be opened, organizers said that despite positive signs of an end to the siege with the prospects of the opening of the Egypt-Gaza border crossing, they would not stop until the full siege is lifted.

As Egyptians accepted nothing less than the regime's departure, "so too we must accept nothing less than a full end of the illegal blockade of Gaza and all forms of the Israeli occupation of Palestine," a statement said.

While the crossing was opened for several days starting on 28 May, it has since closed over a disagreement over crossing regulations.

In May last year, Israeli forces intercepted a flotilla led by a Turkish charity, killing eight Turkish activists and one dual US-Turkish national, and plunging ties with Ankara into deep crisis.

In separate remarks, Davutoglu said the expected formation of a transitional Palestinian government under a unity deal between the radical group Hamas, which controls Gaza, and the secular Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas might help lower tensions in the region.

"Israel should wait for the formation of the new Palestinian government and then lift the blockade of Gaza," he was quoted as saying on the Hurriyet newspaper's web site Tuesday.

"The aid flotilla should wait to see developments following Egypt's opening of the Rafah crossing and how Israel reacts to the new government to be set up in Palestine," he added.

The minister argued a new Palestinian administration would mean that Gaza would no longer be under Hamas control and deprive Israel of the grounds for the blockade.

"A crisis may be overcome with certain steps by both sides... If we are talking about common sense, you can take those words of mine as common sense," he said.

On Sunday, Palestinian officials suspended operations on their side of the Rafah crossing amid a spat with Egypt over capacity and coordination.

International activists, who gathered in Istanbul last month, insisted they would sail to Gaza on the grounds that the Israeli blockade remained in place.

They said 15 vessels would leave for Gaza from several Mediterranean ports around June 20, with some 1,500 activists from about 100 countries on board and hundreds of tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Ties between one-time allies Turkey and Israel remain in crisis after last year's bloodshed, with Ankara demanding an apology and compensation for the victims' families.
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