Mavi Marmara at an earlier date. (AP)
A Turkish ferry which was the target of a deadly raid by Israeli commandos when it tried to deliver aid to Gaza received a rapturous welcome from thousands on Sunday as it arrived back in Istanbul.
Crowds waving Turkish and Palestinian flags lined the quayside as the Mavi Marmara docked at Istanbul's Sarayburnu following a lengthy refit in a port along the Mediterranean.
Many of those gathered chanted "Allah is Great" as the ferry berthed, nearly seven months after the dramatic raid which left nine Turkish activists dead and triggered a major diplomatic crisis.
The ferry had been trying to deliver aid supplies to Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, but Israel refused to allow it to sail to the besieged territory and then boarded the vessel when a standoff ensued.
According to the ferry's owner, a Turkish campaign group called IHH, the Mavi Marmara will be part of a new flotilla which will leave for Gaza on May 31, 2011, exactly one year on from the deadly raid.
Turkey's foreign minister said on Saturday that he wanted to turn the page on a year of difficult relations with Israel but it must apologise for the assault on the aid ship. Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a decade of close ties since 1996 when they signed a military cooperation agreement.
The two states held fence-mending talks in Geneva earlier this month and drew up a draft deal to end the crisis, which is yet to be approved by Israel.
The draft envisaged Israel's apology over the raid, its agreement to compensate the victims' families, and an immediate restoration of good relations that existed between the two countries, which would mean the return of the Turkish ambassador to Tel Aviv, who was withdrawn.
Relations had been already strained before the raid because of Israel's devastating war on Gaza launched in December 2008.