Turkey insists on apology to normalise Israel ties
ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey’s prime minister said on Friday it was “unthinkable” to normalise ties with Israel unless it apologised for a bloody raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza last year and lifted a blockade on the Palestinian territory.
In a speech to parliament ahead of the expected release of a U.N. report on the raid, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan gave no sign of softening despite reports in recent weeks that the two sides have been holding secret talks to mend fences.
Ankara has repeatedly demanded Israel apologise and pay compensation for the killing of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists when Israeli marines seized the Mavi Marmara ship bound for the coastal strip last year.
Israel has agreed in principle to pay compensation only.
“Normalisation of relations between the two countries is unthinkable unless Israel apologises for this illegal act which is against all international law and values, pays compensation to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this atrocious event and lifts the embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said, to the applause of his AK Party lawmakers.
An Israeli official told Reuters on Thursday a U.N. report on the seizure was due to be published on July 27, after delays to enable further talks between Israel and Turkey.
The countries have submitted separate reports to the committee, set up by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and chaired by former New Zealand premier Geoffrey Palmer. Turkish and Israeli officials are reported to be trying to overcome disagreements over the final wording of the U.N. report.
Erdogan, who won re-election last month, said in a speech unveiling his new government’s programme that Turkey will be “closely following” all international investigations into the raid.
“LEGITIMATE” VS “ILLEGAL”
Israeli Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz told reporters on Thursday that previous drafts of the Palmer report indicated the panel would rule mostly in favour of Israel by saying the blockade is “legitimate” and that Israel took legitimate steps.
But a Turkish official told Reuters on Friday that it was Turkey’s view that the Palmer report should not deviate from the U.N. Human Rights Council report issued last September, which branded both the blockade and the Israeli raid as “illegal.”
“We are expecting any legal element mentioned in the report regarding the blockade not to contradict the established rules of the international law and not to contradict the report published by the UN Human Rights’ Council,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.
Israel had boycotted the human rights council’s panel, calling it biased.
Israel says the blockade is warranted to prevent arms reaching Gaza’s ruling Hamas Islamists, who are hostile to the Jewish state. Palestinians and their supporters regard it as illegal pressure on the heavily aid-dependent strip.
Turkey’s friendship with Israel withered after Erdogan condemned an Israeli offensive launched in Gaza in December 2008, and relations went into deep freeze after the Mavi Marmara incident.
(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Mark Trevelyan and Robert Woodward)