Turkey to cut ties unless Israel apologizes over Gaza raid

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ANKARA: Turkey warned Israel Monday it will cut ties unless it gets an apology for a deadly raid on Gaza-bound aid ships, but the Jewish state said it will never say sorry for defending itself.

Ankara had already closed its airspace to all Israeli military aircraft in reaction to the May 31 bloodshed on a Turkish ship in which nine Turks were killed, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told the daily Hurriyet.

The Israelis had three options, Davutoglu said in remarks published Monday.

"Either they apologise, or accept an international (inquiry) commission and its report, or relations will be broken," he said.

Turkey has called for an international probe into Israel’s interception of the flotilla, but Davutoglu said Ankara would not reject Israel’s own inquiry if it resulted in an apology and compensation of the victims’ families, according to Hurriyet.

"If their own commission concludes that the raid was unjust and if they apologise, that will be sufficient," he said, although he insisted on compensation.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had already ruled out any apology on Friday and a senior government official said on Monday after Davutoglu’s remarks that Israel would never say sorry for defending itself.

"Israel will never apologize for defending its citizens," the official told AFP, echoing Netanyahu’s remarks.

"Of course, we regret the loss of life but it was not the Israeli side that initiated the violence," the official said.

Foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor slammed Turkey’s harsh rhetoric.
"When you want an apology, you don’t use threats or ultimatums," Palmor told AFP. "Everything leads us to believe that Turkey has another agenda in mind."

Davutoglu said he had presented Turkey’s position during talks in Brussels on Wednesday with Israeli Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer, in the first high-level contact since the crisis erupted.

"We will not wait for eternity for an Israeli answer," he said.

"If they do not make any move (to meet Turkey’s expectations), the process of isolating Israel will continue," he added.

Davutoglu also said the decision to close Turkey’s airspace to Israeli military aircraft "was not taken for only one or two airplanes," hinting the sanction could be extended to civilian flights as well.

"There is no decision yet for the airspace ban to cover civilian flights. It will be reviewed according to developments," he told a Hurriyet correspondent while flying back from a visit to Kyrgyzstan.

Last week, Turkey said it had denied over flight permission to two Israeli military planes, but authorities said it was not a generalized ban.

The boarding by Israeli marines of the Mavi Marmara ferry, one of a number of boats trying to take aid to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip, killed eight Turks and a dual US-Turkish citizen.

The attack prompted Ankara to recall its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancel three planned joint military exercises.

Relations between the one-time allies were already strained over Israel’s devastating invasion of Gaza last year, which triggered vehement Turkish criticism.

The Islamist-rooted government in Ankara has also irked the Jewish state with its close contacts with Iran and for hosting in 2006 the leader of Hamas, the radical Palestinian group controlling Gaza.

Davutoglu denied reports he and Ben Eliezer met under US pressure.

"We did not meet on the prompting of the United States," he told Hurriyet, adding that US President Barack Obama had been told of the talks when he met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Toronto in late June.

Washington had said earlier it was working to heal the rift between its two main allies in the Middle East, alarmed also over concerns that Erdogan’s government is taking Turkey, NATO’s sole mainly Muslim member, away from the West.

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




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