Gaza's Hamas PM hails ‘martyrs’ of Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara
ISTANBUL - Gaza's Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniya hailed Monday the "martyrs" killed in 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish vessel trying to break the blockade of the Palestinian enclave.
Haniya, on his first trip abroad since Hamas seized power in Gaza in 2007, made a tour of the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla attacked by Israeli troops in international waters in a raid that left nine Turkish activists dead.
The May 2010 incident led a furious Turkey to downgrade relations with Israel, a one-time ally, and Ankara is seeking an apology and compensation for the victims before it restores full ties.
"Your martyrs are our martyrs, your blood is our blood, your wounds are our wounds," Haniya in an address to hundreds of supporters of an Islamic aid group which had dispatched the ship to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.
"Israel, the invader, you may have stopped the Mavi Marmara from reaching Gaza but Gaza is now meeting the Mavi Marmara," he told the supporters gathered by the vessel.
The demonstrators waved Palestinian flags, chanting slogans such as "Welcome to Hamas" and "the resistance continues".
Haniya, who also met relatives of the victims of the raid, thanked Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support for the Palestinian cause.
On Sunday, Haniya held talks with Erdogan, whose government insists that peace cannot be achieved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict if Hamas is excluded from the process.
Ankara has sought to mediate in efforts to reconcile Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas's Fatah faction and Hamas, despite Israeli ire over its contacts with the Islamist movement.
Hamas and Fatah signed a reconciliation deal in May after years of bitter and often deadly rivalry, but its implementation has since stalled.
Since 2007, the Palestinian territories have been politically divided into two separate territories, with Abbas's Fatah largely ruling the West Bank and Hamas governing Gaza.
Israel has vigorously defended its right to maintain a blockade on Gaza, which it says is necessary to prevent weapons from entering the impoverished coastal territory.
Haniya has already visited Egypt and Sudan and also plans to visit Qatar, Tunisia and Bahrain on the tour which his office said was aimed primarily at seeking aid to rebuild Gaza City.