With a reconciliation deal between Turkey and Israel finalized, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for the first time lambasted the organizers of the 2010 Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
Speaking in Ankara late Wednesday, Erdogan said the flotilla organizers at the Istanbul-based Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) did not ask for permission from him back when he was the prime minister.
“Did you ask me before you set sail? Did you ask my permission,” said Erdogan, who had long made Israel's lifting of a siege on Gaza a precondition for resuming ties.
The flotilla incident triggered years of tension between Ankara and Tel Aviv, with the two sides announcing a restoration of their ties only this week after Turkey apparently dropped its conditions.
Erdogan’s criticism of the aid flotilla came hours after Israel's cabinet approved the agreement to restore relations with Turkey following a six-year rupture.
The IHH had complained in recent days that the reconciliation deal was tantamount to acceptance of Israel’s blockade on Gaza.
“We were already delivering the same amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but without making an appearance,” said Erdogan.
“Now we have Israel's promise, all aid supplies to Gaza will be permitted from now on,” he added.
However, in the Gaza Strip where about 1.8 million Palestinians have been under a crippling Israeli blockade for years, resident Khaled Nimer said the Turkish deal with Israel is “unfair” toward the Palestinian people.
“It only benefits Israel. It primarily serves Israel, and the siege on Gaza will remain as it is,” the Reuters news agency quoted Nimer as saying.
“Gaza doesn’t just need an electricity plant or a hospital where people can get treatment, Gaza needs many things, it needs a lot of support, not just a hospital, or a passage to let us in and out,” he said.
Close relations between Ankara and Tel Aviv soured after Israeli commandos raided the Freedom Flotilla in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea on May 31, 2010, killing nine Turkish citizens and injuring about 50 other people. A tenth Turkish national later succumbed to his injuries.
Netanyahu and some Israeli officials have defended the accord, saying it will have a positive impact on the economy and raise the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals for the regime.
Under the deal, Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip will remain in place, but the regime is obliged to pay USD 20 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish activists killed in the Gaza aid vessel incident.
The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli siege since June 2007. The blockade has caused a decline in the standards of living as well as unprecedented levels of unemployment and unrelenting poverty.
Israel has waged three wars on the coastal enclave since 2008, including the 2014 offensive, which left more than 2,200 Palestinians dead and over 11,100 others wounded.
The flotilla incident came as Erdogan was riding on a wave of popularity among sections of the Arab public opinion after storming out of a heated debate with former Israeli president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos in 2009.