Thousands in Turkey have welcomed the return of the lead vessel of an Ankara-backed aid convoy, which took a deadly Israeli assault on its way to the Gaza Strip.
Mavi Marmara rolled into the dock at the port of Sarayburnu in Istanbul in northwestern Turkey on Sunday, AFP reported.
The families of the victims of the Israeli assault and injured activists were symbolically boarding the vessel.
A thousands-strong crowd joyously received the vessel, some waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting "Allah is Great."
The ship headed for the Gaza Strip earlier in the year as part of a six-vessel convoy, carrying approximately 750 human rights activists and around 10,000 tons of construction material, medical equipment and school supplies.
Israeli commandos violently attacked the human rights campaigners on May 31, killing nine Turkish activists and injuring around 50 others.
The attack prompted a strong international response and did the severest-yet damage to Tel Aviv’s ties with Ankara.
On Saturday, Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu repeated Ankara’s demands of apology and compensation over the attack and said “nothing can cover up” the deadly act of aggression, the Associated Press reported.
Following the onslaught, the activists were expelled and the cargos were transferred to the Israeli port of Ashdod to the south of Tel Aviv. Reports, meanwhile, pointed to Israeli forces’ appropriating and misusing the activists’ personal belongings.
Before heading for Istanbul, the ship was reportedly towed to the Turkish port of Iskenderun in the south in August. Forensic teams were said to have identified over 200 bullet holes in it, many of which had been painted over by Israel.
An upcoming Turkish movie, called Valley of the Wolves – Palestine — an adaptation of TV series of the same name — is to feature Mavi Marmara and the protagonist’s capture of the military commander planning and ordering the attack.
Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Aid, also known as IHH, the Turkish rights group, which organized the Flotilla, said the ship is to part of a new fleet, which will leave for Gaza on May 31, 2011, AFP reported.