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Turkey government officials see off Gaza-bound aid ship after Israel deal

A picture taken on July 1, 2016 shows the Panama-flagged ship Lady Leyla setting off from the southern Turkish port of Mersin for the Gaza Strip. (Photo by AFP)

A Turkish vessel laden with tons of aid and traveling under Panamanian ensign has set off for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, days after the Turkish president criticized a similar but non-government-sanctioned trip by another aid convoy that brought public Turkish-Israeli ties to an end.

Lady Leyla, as the vessel is named, set sail for the Palestinian territory on Friday, Hürriyet reported.

It said the ship is carrying 11,000 tons of rice, sugar, flour, and toys for the enclave.

In May 2010, an aid convoy for Gaza, which did not have the Turkish government’s blessing, was raided by Israeli commandos in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Nine Turkish activists were killed by the Israeli forces. A tenth, severely wounded in the raid, died later.

Ankara demanded an apology, which was not forthcoming at first. Turkish fury surged, and the Israeli envoy to Ankara was expelled in September 2010.

Some six years later, however, reports emerged that Turkey and Israel were engaged in not-so-public negotiations over the normalization of their ties. Late last month, the two sides announced an agreement, ending the freeze in public relations.

A photo taken on December 26, 2010 shows Turkish ship Mavi Marmara arriving back at the Sarayburnu port in Istanbul as people wave Turkish and Palestinian flags. (Photo by AFP)

Ankara had conditioned the normalization on an Israeli apology, compensation for the victims, and the lifting of the siege on the Gaza Strip.

Israel has met the first two demands and alleged it would take moves aimed at easing the plight of the Gazans. Reports, however, have indicated that Ankara compromised the third condition in order to fast-track the agreement.

Following the reconciliation, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lambasted the organizers of the 2010 Gaza-bound aid flotilla, saying they had not asked for permission from him back then, when he was the prime minister.

“Did you ask me before you set sail? Did you ask my permission,” asked Erdogan.

This time, however, the Turkish government seems to have been notified.

Lady Leyla was given a sendoff by Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Veysi Kaynak, Development Minister Lütfi Elvan, and Palestinian Ambassador to Ankara Faed Mustafa.

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