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Israel Will Return Seized Gaza Aid Ships to Turkey

One of the Turkish ships taking part in the 'Freedom Flotilla' is seen docked prior to heading for the shores off the Gaza Strip in this recent but undated photo (file photo – 28 May 2010)

Israel has decided return to Turkey three aid ships seized during a deadly commando operation against a Gaza-bound flotilla in May.

Israeli officials said Friday the decision had been conveyed to the Turkish government. The May 31 raid against the aid flotilla left nine pro-Palestinian activists dead and sparked a sharp downturn in Israel's traditionally warm relations with Turkey. Eight of the activists killed were Turks and the ninth was a Turkish-American.

The aid ships were attempting to break Israel's blockade of Gaza to deliver aid directly to Palestinians. Israel has since taken steps to ease its Gaza blockade.

However, Israel warned on Thursday that two ships preparing to sail from Lebanon to the Gaza Strip would not be allowed to reach the Hamas-ruled Palestinian territory.

Israel's U.N. ambassador, Gabriela Shalev, said in a letter that the Jewish state reserves the right "to use all necessary means" to prevent the ships from violating the naval blockade.

The warning came hours after Israeli President Shimon Peres said anti-Israeli sentiment in the United Nations played a role in the condemnation his country received after the deadly raid in May.

At a start of a two-day visit to Slovenia, Mr. Peres said "peace" is not in Israel's hands, adding the Israeli blockade of Gaza would be lifted immediately if "terrorist" attacks on his country stopped.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP AND Reuters.