Ship carrying aid to Gaza leaves Turkish port

Ankara sends second aid shipment to besieged Palestinian enclave after Turkish-Israeli deal to normalise ties.

Turkish Humanitarian Aid Ship Lady Leyla
A previous ship carrying aid to Gaza arrived in the Israeli port of Ashdod in early July [File: EPA]

A ship carrying aid to Gaza has departed from the Turkish city of Mersin and is on its way to the Israeli port of Ashdod, according to a senior Turkish official.

“This is the second major shipment of humanitarian aid to Gaza since an agreement was reached with the government of Israel to normalise relations,” the official, who asked to remain anonymous, told Al Jazeera on Saturday.

Turkey and Israel reached an agreement to normalise ties in late June ending a six-year rift that was sparked by an Israeli raid on a previous flotilla bound for Gaza in which 10 activists were killed in 2010.

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“The vessel carries 100 wheelchairs, 1,000 bicycles, 100,000 backpacks and stationery kits, 300,000 pieces of clothing, 1,288 tonnes of flour, 170 tonnes of rice, 64 tonnes of sugar, 95 tonnes of vegetable oil and 350,000 diapers,” the official said.

“We expect the items to be distributed to the people of Gaza before the upcoming Islamic [Eid al-Adha] holiday. In addition to regular aid materials, we added presents for Palestinian children such as bicycles.”

The Eid holiday is expected to start on September 12. 

After the June deal between Israel and Turkey, a previous Turkish ship arrived in the port of Ashdod in early July. That aid was carried to Gaza by trucks, and the aid en route is expected to be delivered the same way.

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During negotiations that led to the deal, Ankara had called on Israel to lift an eight-year-old blockade on Gaza, something the Israeli side rejected.

A compromise was eventually reached, which allows Ankara to deliver aid to the besieged enclave through Israeli ports.

‘Aid distributed unfairly’

According to Jehad Saftawi, a Palestinian journalist in Gaza, there are mixed views there on the aid and the Turkish-Israeli deal.

He also told Al Jazeera that aid delivered to Gaza was not usually distributed fairly. 

“The aid only reaches the people who are close to Hamas, not to the wider parts of the society. The aid distribution process is as politicised as construction tenders,” he said.

Saftawi said many people were disappointed that the blockade had not been lifted as part of the deal.

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“Before the agreement, Hamas got people’s hopes high, saying that Ankara would be able to convince Israel to lift the blockade,” Saftawi told Al Jazeera.

“Nonetheless, some people, particularly the ones close to Hamas, are more optimistic. They carry the view that at least few countries, such as Turkey and Qatar, care about Gaza and offer their support and help.”

Nagham Mohanna, who works for the Gaza Centre for Media Freedom, believes Turkey sending aid to Gaza is a positive step, but expects further steps pushing Israel to defivitively end the siege on the territory.

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“The people of Gaza need concrete moves towards lifting of the blockade and open borders. They need to get out of this big prison to feel dignity as other people do,” she said.

As part of the agreement, Israel also committed to pay around $20m in compensation to the families of Turks who died in the 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship.

Israel argues that the blockade on Gaza is needed to prevent the Hamas movement, which controls the enclave, from acquiring resources that could be used to fight Israeli forces.

The United Nations  and rights groups, however, say the blockade causes severe humanitarian problems in the territory and should be lifted.

Ankara and Hamas have close ties, and the Turkish government has been a supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Follow Umut Uras on Twitter: @Um_Uras

Source: Al Jazeera