Turkish Humanitarian Air Corridor Starts Up

ANKARA, Turkey (Reuters) -

New flotilla to challenge Israeli blockade of Gaza

Four wounded Palestinians were flown into Ankara for medical treatment on Monday, the first in Turkey’s promised plan to evacuate thousands from the Gaza Strip.

Turkey said last week it was seeking Israeli and Egyptian agreement for an air corridor to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Our wounded from Gaza have started to come,” Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters meeting the flight from Tel Aviv.

Eager to re-establish itself as a powerhouse in a rapidly changing Middle East, Turkey is already sheltering more than a million refugees from the war in Syria and is playing a major role in the development of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Despite crumbling relations with Israel, it also hopes through its ties with the Palestinian authorities to play a part in brokering a long-term settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Osama Al-Najar, spokesman of the ministry of health in Ramallah, said another 60 wounded people would be flown into Turkey later on Monday.

The Palestinian Authority helped organise the transfer of the wounded people from Gaza to Israel and then to Turkey, he added.

Davutoglu said Turkey planned to bring in around 200 wounded in the first stage of the plan and would hold further talks with Israel and Egypt — which has acted as a mediator in the conflict — to agree to more flights.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of the air corridor in his first speech after winning Sunday’s presidential election. He described his victory as a triumph for Gaza.

Turkey’s state disaster and emergency authority was to send an initial aid cargo of 3,500 food parcels by plane from Ankara to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport on Monday evening as part of the air corridor.

Meanwhile, a Turkish aid group said on Monday it would again send ships to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza, four years after the Mavi Marmara incident which led to the breakoff of diplomatic ties between the countries.

The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) announced that a coalition of pro-Palestinian activists from 12 countries has decided to launch a convoy “in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza.”