Ashdod, Israel // A Turkish ship carrying food packages, flour, rice, sugar and toys for Gaza arrived in Israel on Sunday, a week after the two countries agreed to restore ties that soured over a deadly raid on an aid flotilla.
The Lady Leyla docked at Ashdod port in the afternoon after setting sail from the Turkish port of Mersin on Friday.
The container vessel’s cargo is to be unloaded, inspected and sent on to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, hit by three wars with Israel since 2008 and under an Israeli blockade.
The Panama-flagged ship was carrying 11,000 tonnes of aid, according to Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency.
Turkey had initially pushed for a lifting of Israel’s blockade on Gaza as part of the negotiations to normalise ties, but Israel rejected this.
A compromise was eventually reached allowing Turkey to send aid through Ashdod rather than directly to the Palestinian enclave.
Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent the Islamist movement Hamas from receiving materials that could be used for military purposes, but UN officials have called for it to be lifted, citing deteriorating conditions in the territory.
Turkey’s ruling Islamic-rooted AKP party has friendly ties with Gaza’s Hamas rulers, and president Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause.
Turkey and Israel were formerly close regional allies, but fell out in 2010 when Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists in a raid on an aid flotilla seeking to run the blockade on Gaza.
Under the reconciliation deal, Israel will pay US$20 million (Dh73.45m) in compensation to the families of those killed.
Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promoted the economic benefits of restoring ties, with talk of building a pipeline to Turkey to export Israeli gas, and the need to find allies in the turbulent Middle East.
The deal received a mixed response in Israel.
There were allegations that it does not do enough to push for the return of four Israelis missing in Gaza – two soldiers who have been declared dead and two civilians believed to be alive and held by Hamas.
Several relatives and supporters of the soldiers’ families protested against the deal outside Ashdod port on Sunday.
* Agence France-Presse