Gaza flotilla vow as thousands rally in Istanbul

People wave Turkish and Palestinian flags during a rally in Istanbul, 20 May Turkish and Palestinian flags were waved at the rally on Monday night

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Details of a new Gaza aid flotilla have been announced, amid mass rallies in Turkey, marking a year since Israeli forces killed nine Turkish activists.

Organisers said that, despite the opening of Gaza's Egyptian border, the territory remained under "unlawful blockade" by the Israelis.

Fifteen ships will leave for Gaza from various Mediterranean ports in the second half of June, a spokesman said.

Israel accuses activists of provoking last year's bloodshed.

Fighting had ensued when its marines boarded the lead aid ship, the ferry Mavi Marmara, in international waters before dawn on 31 May 2010.

Israel's assault on the ship drew widespread foreign criticism and strained its relations with Turkey, one of its few partners in the Muslim world.

A four-man UN panel appointed in August to look into the affair has yet to report back.

'Million volunteers'

Istanbul's central Taksim Square became a sea of Palestinian and Turkish flags on Monday night as thousands of demonstrators gathered to mourn the nine dead activists and condemn Israel.

Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the Turkish Islamic charity IHH which was in charge of the Mavi Marmara, said he had received about one million applications from volunteers wanting to take part in the next flotilla.

"We are not sailing to death," he told Reuters news agency.

"We are making use of the right provided by the United Nations and Geneva convention. We are going there to establish a corridor to deliver humanitarian aid.

Vangelis Pisias, the Greek co-ordinator of the new flotilla, told reporters that Israel's blockade remained intact.

"Israel still prevents Palestinians from using their sea, and controls and severely restricts all goods entering and exiting Gaza," he said.

Huseyin Oruc, another senior member of the IHH, said about 1,500 activists from about 100 countries would board the vessels, which would also carry humanitarian aid, medical equipment, school supplies and construction materials, including up to 700 tonnes of cement.

The activists were speaking to reporters aboard the Mavi Marmara, which is moored at Istanbul.

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