US says Turkey will not escort aid flotilla to Gaza

By on Friday, November 4th, 2011

The United States said Thursday it has received assurances from Turkey that it would not send warships to accompany two new aid ships seeking to break Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The United States also signaled its opposition to blockade busting as Irish activists said the Irish ship Saoirse and Canadian vessel Tahrir, carrying 27 people, are southwest of Cyprus and expect to reach Gaza by Friday.

In September, amid a longstanding dispute with Israel over aid flotillas, Turkey threatened to send warships to escort any aid vessels trying to reach Gaza in defiance of Israel’s naval blockade.

But State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told reporters that US officials had warned Ankara against such a step at the time and were told Thursday that no Turkish warships would escort the aid vessels.

“We’ve been clear to them that we think that that would be an extremely bad idea. And they’ve now reassured us that that is not what they are doing in this case,” she said.

Nuland added there were concerns “that there were Turkish warships accompanying … this (new) flotilla. And we were told quite emphatically by the Turkish government that that was not the case.”

Israel and Turkey have been locked in a bitter dispute since May 2010 when Israeli naval commandos stormed the international Freedom Flotilla, a convoy of six ships trying to reach Gaza, killing nine Turkish nationals.

The crisis deepened in September with Turkey expelling the Israeli ambassador and axing military ties and defense trade.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan then vowed that Turkish warships would escort any aid ships trying to reach Gaza.

The United States has also warned its citizens not take part in the ships breaking the Israeli blockade.

“We are renewing our warning to US citizens not to involve themselves in this activity,” Nuland said, adding the United States has been in contact with all the relevant governments.

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