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Turkish aid bound for Gaza arrives to Israeli port amid backlash to rapprochement

July 3, 2016 7:53 P.M. (Updated: July 4, 2016 2:06 P.M.)
BETHLEHEM (Ma’an) -- Israeli demonstrators on Saturday reportedly attempted to block the delivery of aid to the besieged Gaza Strip from the Turkish cargo ship Lady Leyla, which docked at Israel’s Ashdod port earlier that morning.

According to Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the families of Israeli soldiers whose slain bodies are being held by Hamas or who are believed to be missing inside the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, staged a protest at the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and the blockaded territory, aiming to prevent the aid from passing through.

An Israeli police spokesperson could not immediately be reached to confirm reports that demonstrators had attempted to block the aid.

The shipment, which contained some 11,000 tons of supplies, including 10,000 toys and 10,000 packages of food, embarked from Turkey’s southern port of Mersin on Friday.

Turkey’s humanitarian aid delivery followed an agreement made with Israel on Sunday to normalize diplomatic relations between the two nations, ending a six-year standoff sparked by the 2010 Israeli attack on a Turkish aid ship attempting to lift the siege on the Gaza Strip which resulted in the death of ten Turkish activists.

While Turkey notably conceded on its demand that Israel lift its near decade-long blockade on the Gaza Strip, Israel did agree to allow Turkey to deliver aid, with the stipulation that deliveries pass through the Ashdod port, to then continue to Gaza through land crossings.

A statement from Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) welcomed the “donation to the ongoing Israeli effort to supply Gazans with products and merchandise, along with the hundreds of trucks that pass through Kerem Shalom each day full of goods, medical supplies, construction materials, electronic devices and more.”

Families of Israeli soldiers slain during Israel’s 50-day assault on the Gaza Strip in 2014 protested at the crossing, slamming the normalization agreement for failing to demand the return of missing Israelis believe to be held by Hamas, according to Haaretz.

However Turkey has reportedly issued a separate "letter of goodwill" promising to work with Hamas for the release of the missing Israelis.

Hamas meanwhile has applauded the Turkish-Israeli agreement, representing a rare moment of consensus between Hamas, the Palestinian Authority, and Israeli leadership.

In a press conference following the finalization of the deal, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim claimed that Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip had been “largely lifted,” a statement met with shock by those disappointed that Turkey had conceded on pressuring Israel to fully lift the blockade after years of warnings and threats.

Many reacted to the deal by saying it was proof that the Turkish government’s vehement opposition to the Israeli blockade had been a disingenuous diplomatic tactic to gain support in the region.

In a statement published Friday, the left-wing Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) argued that Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan's government “never broke its economic, military, or security ties with Israel,” in spite of “Turkish official propaganda that sought to tie the normalization of relations between the states to an end to the siege of the Gaza Strip.”

The Gaza Strip has suffered under an Israeli military blockade since 2007, when Hamas was elected to rule the territory.

Residents of Gaza suffer from high unemployment and poverty rates, as well as the consequences of three devastating wars with Israel since 2008.

The UN has warned that unless current trends were altered, the Gaza Strip could become uninhabitable for residents in fewer than five years.

"The social, health and security-related ramifications of the high population density and overcrowding are among the factors that may render Gaza unlivable by 2020," the UN's development agency said in 2015.
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