Israel has urged Turkey not to allow a human-rights organization to dispatch another aid convoy to Gaza, in a move to avert a repetition of last year's crisis on the Mavi Marmara aid ship.

"We have explained our views [on the new convoy campaign] to the Turkish government," Israeli Ambassador to Turkey Gaby Levy told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday. Levy gave this message verbally to Halit Çevik, deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, the Daily News has learned.

The ambassador emphasized that Israel has no problem with transporting humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip through legal means, praising the work that Türk Kızılay, the Turkish Red Crescent, is doing there.

"The passages to Gaza are open and there is a greater flexibility on the Israeli side. The quota for 220 trucks cannot even be reached as there is no need for more aid. Under these conditions, such an aid campaign could only be seen as provocation," Levy said.

Activists plan to send a new flotilla to break the blockade on Gaza by mid-June to commemorate the people who died in last year's mission and to give a sign to the Palestinians that they have not been forgotten.

Eight Turks and one American of Turkish descent were killed May 31, 2010, in an Israeli commando raid on the vessel Mavi Marmara, which was part of a convoy trying to take humanitarian aid to Gaza. Led by Turkey's Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), the ships had many Turkish and foreign activists as passengers.

The deadly raid strained Turkish-Israeli ties in an unprecedented way and caused Turkey to withdraw its ambassador from Tel Aviv. An international commission to investigate the incident was set up under the auspices of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon but it has not yet released its final report.

The new convoy is set to depart in mid-June, a couple of weeks after the anniversary of the raid, in consideration of the upcoming general elections slated for June 12 in Turkey.

According to Levy, the message to Turkey did not address what Israel's reaction would be if the new flotilla set sail for Gaza. "However, our position on this case is well known," he said. "International law permits countries to intervene with ships that could pose a threat to their national security."

A Turkish diplomat said Israel's request was noted at the Foreign Ministry without giving a clear reply to the ambassador. "The issue is still being evaluated," the diplomat said without further elaboration.

Israel launches international campaign

Levy said Israel has also communicated with some other countries from which activists plan to take part in the İHH campaign. Activists from Greece, France, the United States, Ireland and some other European countries have already announced their participation. Members of some Jewish groups critical of the Israeli government's polices also plan to be on board.

The ambassador said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has phoned the U.N. secretary-general, asking him to use the international body's influence to stop the campaign.

Turkey will likely keep a low profile in this year's flotilla campaign due to its reluctance to see a new crisis with Israel erupt and because the İHH and other Turkish civil-society organizations participating in the effort are more closely aligned with the Felicity Party (SP), and other conservative political parties, than with the ruling party.

Optimistic word for bilateral ties

Despite the negative developments, Levy expressed optimism about the future relationship between the two countries due to their history. "The number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey has drastically decreased from approximately 500,000 to 120,000, but we are hopeful to mend the relationship," Levy said.

Emphasizing the fact that Kızılay's office in Israel was working very successfully in supplying humanitarian aid to Gaza, Levy said he had received a letter from the group's head only days after the flotilla crisis last year. According to Levy, Kızılay's chief thanked the Israeli government for allowing the group to extend Turkey's help to the Palestinian people.

Ambassador Levy eliminated speculations about his term in Turkey, saying that he will return to Israel this fall and will retire from diplomatic service. He said he had no information about his successor.


Organizers of a new flotilla to deliver aid to Gaza have called on European states not to bow to pressure from Israel to stop their mission and have asked for protection against, what they say are, threats from Israel.

The new flotilla, called Freedom Flotilla 2, is expected to sail to Gaza in the coming weeks, a year after a raid by Israeli forces on a similar mission that left eight Turkish citizens and one American citizen dead. About 15 ships are expected to take part in the mission, although organizers, speaking after a meeting in Athens on Monday, declined to give an exact number due to security considerations.

Israel has appealed to the UN and European nations to stop the flotilla. Organizers, which include activists from a number of countries including several European nations, the US and Turkey, said they were determined to continue their plans, despite last May's fatal raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara and the threat of new violence.

"Now, on the eve of the second Freedom Flotilla 2 voyage, the Israeli government is threatening to attack us again. Like last year before the first Freedom Flotilla, Israeli leaders are busy developing an atmosphere of hostility that should leave no doubt as to their intentions if and when they illegally attack this civilian flotilla," organizers said in a statement posted on their website.

"Therefore, we are calling on all our governments, the international community and the United Nations not to succumb to Israel's intimidation. Governments need to fulfill their 'responsibility to protect' their own citizens. The threats against the flotilla are not just at sea, but also in our home countries, as Israeli agencies are targeting individual groups and people," read the statement.

Organizers announced that Freedom Flotilla 2 partners will go to the European Parliament in early May for meetings with members as well as the UN and other international bodies to present their goals. Statements from organizers came as Israel urged European nations to stop their people from participating in the flotilla.

On Monday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed for action from EU ambassadors in Jerusalem during a meeting. "This flotilla must be stopped," he told ambassadors. On April 1st Netahyahu's office asked UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon to stop the flotilla from sailing to Gaza, claiming that there are extremist Islamic elements whose aim is to create a provocation and bring about a conflagration among the organizers.

A UN panel is still investigating last year's May 31 raid on the Mavi Marmara, which was part of a humanitarian aid flotilla meant for Gaza. The panel is expected to finish its investigation and the final report may be ready in May, according to sources close to the panel.

Turkey demands an apology from Israel and compensation for families of the victims. Israel rejects both demands, saying its soldiers acted in self-defense.

plans for convoy after elections

Participants in the Freedom Flotilla 2 convoy will include Turkish, Algerian, Scottish, Spanish, Dutch, Irish, Italian, Swedish, Norwegian, Jordanian, Malaysian, Indonesian, Swiss, US, Canadian, British and French nationals. Lawmakers and journalists are also planned to participate.

After the parliamentary June 12 elections, the Turkish charity Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), which owns the Mavi Marmara, said its activists will be among the passengers of the Freedom Flotilla 2. Plans are to send a separate convoy, whose flag ship will again be the Mavi Marmara,

"Our activists will join the European convoy but our own convoy will head to Gaza after the elections," İHH spokesman Salih Bilici told Today's Zaman in a phone interview on Tuesday.

In Athens, a Freedom Flotilla 2 organizer suggested that the two convoys could unite. "We are seriously considering the Turkish elections and we are examining whether to depart after the elections so that we could start our mission as a big and strong convoy," Vaggelis Pissias, a Greek organizer told the private news agency Cihan at the press conference in Athens on Monday. "Preparations are on track and adequate conditions for the departure of the ships will be met by the end of May," Pissias said.


Turkey is bringing together the foreign ministers of Iran and Azerbaijan on Saturday to try and thaw the rivals' icy relations in a new attempt at regional mediation.

"If this meeting can contribute to bilateral ties and open the way for the two countries to make peace and engage in dialogue, we would be pleased," one Turkish official told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran will hold trilateral talks on Saturday in Urmia, a city in northwestern Iran and the capital of the West Azerbaijan Province. Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomats told the Daily News that the developments in the Caucasus region would be discussed at the weekend meeting.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, who has undertaken a number of peace initiatives, will seek ways to improve the Iranian-Azerbaijani relationship, an item that was revealed in the latest WikiLeaks cable.

A WikiLeaks report recently revealed that one of the diplomatic cables features a discussion between Azerbaijani President İlham Aliyev and United States Undersecretary of State William Burns, in which Aliyev complained to the latter that Iran was continuing to undermine Azerbaijan.

The Turkish initiative comes on the heels of other similar efforts in the past to bring together the two parties to promote peace in the region. Davutoğlu, the architect of Turkey's current foreign policy, has most recently sought to soothe the Bahrain crisis following fears of a possible sectarian clash.

Trilateral talks between the foreign ministers of Turkey, Azerbaijan and Iran first took place in December 2010 in Istanbul at the Economic Cooperation Organization meeting.

"Saturday's meeting in Iran will be followed by a third meeting scheduled for Azerbaijan, but the date has not been set," an Azerbaijani embassy spokesman said. "Economic cooperation projects will dominate the agenda of the Saturday meeting. One of the projects is to establish a three-way customs gate involving the three countries as well as the Azerbaijani enclave of Nakhchivan," he stated.

Turkish role

In any Iranian-Azerbaijani rapprochement, however, there is only a limited role for Turkey, according to experts.

"There is a limit to what Turkey can do in this case because Iran has hesitations about Turkey and considers it as a party closer to the Azerbaijanis," Turgut Demirtepe of the Ankara-based think USAK said.

Iran has a large Azeri population in its northwestern provinces. The Azeris are followers of Shiites and make up the majority of the population in the Iranian region of Azerbaijan.

"Iran and Azerbaijan consider each other a regional threat. Iran has fears that its Azeri minority could be provoked by Azerbaijan and by Westerners. Also, Iran sees Azerbaijan as one of the legs of the containment policy employed by Israel and the United States. Azerbaijan, on the other side, considers rising social and political demands from the Aliyev leadership as a threat and believes the growth of the opposition with Islamist tendencies is being provoked by Tehran," Demirtepe said.

Further diplomatic cables from WikiLeaks also revealed that Aliyev expressed his support for U.S. sanctions against Iran. In a meeting with U.S. officials in Baku in February 2010, Aliyev also said he criticized European oil and gas companies for sabotaging the international sanctions regime.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan must be more clear and direct in his future statements on Libya, according to a Beda-based Libyan activist who spoke during a visit to Turkey on Tuesday.

"The Turkish people have been very good to us, but I hope Erdoğan will also be more clear on Libya in the future. I am not saying Erdoğan has done anything wrong, but I hope he will be more direct," Masoud Abdalaziz Lakwany, the chairman of Shuhada Association in the Libyan city of Beda, told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review on Tuesday. Lakwany was attending a press conference at Istanbul's Zeyport seaport about the dispatching of a humanitarian aid ship to Libya by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), a Turkish Islamic charity.

Protests against Turkey were organized last week in the Libyan city of Benghazi, where Libyan rebels attacked the Turkish consulate in the city, removed signs and demanded that the Turkish flag be lowered. Protesters said Prime Minister Erdoğan was a "persona non grata" to the Libyan people, saying he had disappointed them by not speaking out as strongly against the regime as he had done during Egypt's uprising. Demonstrators urged Erdoğan to take his place alongside the Libyan revolutionaries.

Commenting on the NATO mission in Libya, Lakwany said it was moving slowly. "We hope NATO will move quickly, so that Moammar Gadhafi is taken out of the country as soon as possible. He has killed so many people – children, mothers and fathers," he said.

According to Lakwany, the situation in Tripoli and surrounding cities is much more tense and dangerous than in regions such as Benghazi and Beda. Lakwany came to Turkey to coordinate humanitarian aid with the İHH and plans to return to Libya in the near future.


Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu departed from Strasbourg, France to Doha, Qatar early on Wednesday to attend a meeting of the Libya Contact Group, planned during the International Conference on Libya.

The Libya Contact Group aims to find common ground for contacts among parties in Libya and for the coordination of international efforts regarding Libya.


Regarding allegations that there was a radical change in the list of candidates for parliamentary seats in the main opposition Republican People's Party (CHP) for the upcoming general elections scheduled to be held on June 12, CHP chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu said that reform was needed in the party.

"[The] youth should join the party. Twenty-nine is the average age in Turkey. The party should be a new one," he said.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Tuesday addressed Turks living in France as part of his visit.

The gathering of thousands of Turks at a sports hall in Strasbourg was an early election rally for Erdoğan after his Justice and Development (AK) Party announced its candidates for the June 12 general elections.

"We are not chasing a role in the Middle East or in Northern Africa. Unlike certain countries, we are not after war bounty," Erdoğan said in an apparent reference to French President Nicolas Sarkozy.


The ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party, the Republican People's Party (CHP), the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP) listed a total of 257 women as MP candidates for the June 12 elections.

Women's organizations had supported a campaign to send at least 275 women to the Turkish Parliament in the upcoming elections.
Below is a list showing the number of women candidates from the four major Turkish political parties:

Justice and Development Party (AK Party): 78

Republican People's Party (CHP): 109

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): 57

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP): 13

Total number of women candidates: 257

The current number of women deputies in the Turkish Parliament and their political parties are follow:

Justice and Development Party (AK Party): 30

Republican People's Party (CHP): 9

Nationalist Movement Party (MHP): 2

Peace and Democracy Party (BDP): 7

Democratic Left Party (DSP): 1

Total number of women deputies: 49


Police waged a simultaneous operation involving 45 addresses in Küçükçekmece, Başakşehir and some other areas in Istanbul on Tuesday. Police detained 42 people resulting from these raids. It was claimed that al-Qaeda's Turkish leader was among detainees.

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