Turkish ship carrying 11,000 tons of aid headed toward Gaza Strip
A picture taken on July 1, 2016 shows the Panama flagged ship Lady Leyla headed to Gaza. (AFP/Huseyin Kar)
A Turkish aid ship carrying 11,000 tons of supplies for the Gaza Strip left the southern port of Mersin Friday afternoon.
The Lady Leyla sailed south for the Israeli port of Ashdod carrying 2,000 tons of rice, 5,000 tons of flour, 3,000 tons of sugar, 500 tons of cooking oil, and 10,000 food packages in addition to 100,000 pieces of clothing, 20,000 shoes, and 10,000 toys from the Turkish Grain Board and the Turkish Red Crescent (Kizilay).
The Panamanian-flagged vessel is expected to dock within 30 hours.
The humanitarian mission departed Turkey following this week’s reconciliation deal between Ankara and Tel Aviv to end a six-year freeze in relations.
“The supplies aboard this ship are a sort of present from the Turkish people to their brothers and sisters in Gaza ahead of the upcoming Eid al-Fitr,” Development Minister Lutfi Elvan said at a ceremony in Mersin to mark the ship’s departure. “They are a present from our children to Gazan children.”
Eid al-Fitr is the festival marking the end of Muslim fasting month of Ramadan.
Elvan thanked Turkish President Recep Tayip Erdogan for leading the process which led to the restoration of ties between Turkey and Israel, and subsequently the aid being sent today. He also extended his thanks to the Turkish aid agency AFAD, the Turkish Red Crescent, and the Foreign Ministry for their help and coordination.
Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak said that Turkey would continue to help the Palestinian people in the areas of education, health, development, and information technology.
"God willing, all these projects will be completed at the earliest thanks to the [reconciliation] deal,” Kaynak said, adding that Palestine’s largest hospital – which is being built by The Turkish Cooperation and Coordination Agency (TIKA) – would be opening soon.
"The end goal is to ensure that the Palestinians live happily and freely in their own country, and enjoy the same rights as everyone else,” he said.
Mersin Governor Ozdemir Cakacak said that the aid being sent to the Palestinians was not only a show of support, but an indication that “we are always with them”.
“We hope that the pain and tears in Palestine will end soon,” he said.
Palestinian Ambassador Faed Mustafa praised Turkey’s continued help and support to the Palestinian cause since the beginning.
"Turkey has given us much support during the establishment of the State of Palestine. And later on the Gaza issue. Turkey continues to be our number one supporter,” he said.
Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel were suspended after Israeli troops stormed a Gaza-bound aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, in international waters in May 2010 and killed 10 Turkish activists.
The Mavi Marmara was among six civilian vessels of an international humanitarian aid convoy trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza when Israeli commandos boarded it.
In the aftermath of the attack, Turkey demanded a formal apology from Israel, compensation for the families of those killed, and the lifting of Israel’s Gaza blockade.
In 2013, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced regret for the attack, and this week months of talks bore fruit. Under the reconciliation deal, Israel agreed to Turkish humanitarian projects in Gaza as well as the payment of $20 million in compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara victims.
By Anil Bagrik, Mustafa Gungor and Hale Turkes