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First ship in six years: Israel-Turkey pact restores humanitarian aid to Gaza

Aboard the Lady Leyla were 11,000 tons of supplies addressed to Gaza including, flour, rice, sugar, and 10,000 toys. 

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    Containers are unloaded from the Panama-flagged Lady Leyla, a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, at the Ashdod port, July 3. A deal between Israel and Turkey allowed the aid to be brought to Gaza.
    Amir Cohen/Reuters
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The first Turkish ship in six years with aid bound for Gaza arrived in a nearby Israeli port a week after the two countries agreed to restore diplomatic ties.

Sunday afternoon, the Panama-flagged Lady Leyla landed in the Israeli port of Ashdod with 11,000 tons of supplies, including food packages of flour, rice, and sugar, as well as 10,000 toys, according to the Turkish-state run Anadolu news agency. The aid must go through Israel's border crossing to Gaza, rather than straight to the Palestinian territory, because of Israeli security concerns about weapons smuggling.

Turkey and Israel broke off ties in 2010, after Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish passenger ship carrying humanitarian aid that was attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing nine.

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The arrival of the Lady Leyla shows how diplomacy between the two countries can provide relief to Palestinians, even though no members of either Hamas, which governs Gaza, or the Palestinian Authority, which governs the West Bank, played a part in the negotiations. And despite Israel and Turkey each having their own political and economic motivations for the deal, their reconciliation could benefit Palestinians while also serving the two Middle Eastern powers.   

“Hamas believes that under the Turkish-Israeli agreement, Turkey achieved as much as it can to ease the blockade on Gaza, which has been plagued by economic crises," Ahmed Youssef, a former political adviser to Ismail Haniyeh, deputy head of Hamas' political bureau, told Al-Monitor.

Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority that governs the West Bank, expressed satisfaction over the agreement too, according to Reuters. 

Under a Turkey-Israel agreement, Turkey will deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products to Gaza, which Israel has blockaded since Hamas took over in 2007 to prevent the group from smuggling weapons there. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to lift the naval blockade, but agreed to allow aid to arrive in Ashdod, and brought to Gaza through the border crossing. Turkey has also agreed to build a 200-bed hospital, as well a power plant and a desalination facility.

In addition to the blockade agreement, Mr. Netanyahu said Israel will pay $20 million to the bereaved and injured aboard the Mavi Marmara passenger ship, the lead ship of of six vessels tried to break the blockade. The incident led to the two countries withdrawing their ambassadors and freezing diplomatic ties. The arrival of the Lady Layla, then, is a manifestation of reconciliation. But not everyone is pleased with the results.

Both Hamas and the families of Israelis declared killed or missing in Gaza wished the agreement went further. Hamas, who has no diplomatic relations with Israel, hoped Turkey could convince Israel to lift the sea, land, and air blockade of Gaza. This was a concession Mr. Netanyahu said was not on the table, as Israel has said Hamas has used aid shipments to smuggle weapons into the region. Leaders of Hamas and those familiar with the party told Al-Monitor they realize the deal Israel and Turkey struck was the furthest accommodation Israel would make to lifting the blockade.

And the families of Israeli soldiers declared killed or missing in Gaza protested the agreement did not mandate their loved ones be returned to Israel. The remains of Israelis soldiers declared killed in the war between the two countries in 2014 are reportedly being held by Hamas. Along with the agreement, Turkey issued a separate "letter of goodwill" in which it promised to work with Hamas for the release of the missing Israelis, according to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

When Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced the agreement separately Monday, Netanyahu touted its economic implications for Israel. Israel could further develop natural gas reserves in the Mediterranean, perhaps with Turkey as a partner or customer, said Netanyahu. 

Mr. Erdoğan's motivations could stem from “foreign policy challenges, as well as also rising Islamic State attacks, plummeting tourism, and war with Kurdish militants in the southeast,” analysts told The Christian Science Monitor’s Scott Peterson.

Nevertheless, this strategic partnership will bring Palestinians food, electricity, drinking water, and even tens of thousands of toys. 

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