Middle East

Israel releases Turkish ship from Gaza aid flotilla

The Mavi Marmara is towed out of Haifa, 5 August Image copyright Reuters
Image caption The Mavi Marmara was the largest of the six-ship Gaza-bound aid flotilla

Israel has released an impounded Turkish aid ship on which nine activists were killed as they tried to break the Gaza blockade two months ago.

The Mavi Marmara was towed out of Haifa by a Turkish tugboat following a request from Ankara. Two other Turkish ships are set to leave within hours.

Israel's deadly raid on the aid convoy in May strained relations with Turkey and caused an international outcry.

Israel this week agreed to co-operate with a UN investigation into the clash.

The three Turkish towing ships will "receive three vessels anchored in Israel along with the personal equipment that was aboard them," Israel's defence ministry said in a statement.

It is believed that three remaining non-Turkish boats are still being held in Israel, along with the Irish cargo ship, Rachel Corrie, which sailed towards Gaza some days later.

Deadly clash

The Mavi Marmara was the largest of the six-ship flotilla intercepted by Israeli troops on 31 May.

The flotilla, crewed by activists from a coalition of pro-Palestinian groups, was trying to reach Gaza with 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid.

Israel and Egypt have blockaded the Palestinian territory since the Hamas militant group took control of it in 2007.

The Israelis, who recently loosened the blockade, say it is intended to stop militants in Gaza from obtaining rockets to fire at Israel.

The Israeli military has said its commandos resorted to force only after being attacked by activists after they rappelled from helicopters onto the deck of the Mavi Marmara.

But the activists say the commandos opened fire as soon as they boarded the vessel, which was in international waters at the time.

Earlier this week, the United Nations announced that it was opening an inquiry into the flotilla raid which would include both Israeli and Turkish participation.

Following months of negotiations, Israel agreed on Monday to co-operate with the inquiry.

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