Turkey not turning its back on West over Gaza row: Gul

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LONDON: Turkey is not turning its back on the West in its angry response to a deadly Israeli raid on Gaza-bound aid ships and is firmly part of Europe, President Abdullah Gul said in an interview Friday.

But in comments published as Israel tries to end a crisis with Ankara triggered by the raids, he also defended Turkey’s fury at the killings of eight Turks and one dual US-Turkish.

"There is no reason to have any doubts about Turkey," he told The Times newspaper, dismissing concern that Ankara was being driven towards closer ties with the Islamic world in particular after the Gaza crisis.

"I consider it very wrong to interpret Turkey’s interest with other geographic regions as it breaking from the West, turning its back on the West, or seeking alternatives to the West," he said. "Turkey is part of Europe."

Turkish-Israeli ties had flourished after the two countries signed a military cooperation accord in 1996.

But bilateral relations had already been strained by Israel’s devastating war on Gaza last year, and the aid boat deaths plunged ties between the two countries to a new low.

Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled three planned joint military exercises following the raid. It also twice denied permission to Israeli military aircraft to use its air space.

Gul insisted that Turkey has always been Israel’s friend, but justified its response to the killings of its nationals by saying: "If an army of state kills your people in international waters, how would you react?"

He added that Turkey had undergone a "silent revolution" and was now a big economic power that had embraced democracy, human rights and the free market. It was a "source of inspiration" in the region, he said.

"If this is not acknowledged, it’s a pity," Gul added.

Turkey is bidding to join the European Union but negotiations have stalled over a lack of reforms, differences over Cyprus and opposition from some EU member states.

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