Turkey doesn't budge on demanding apology from Israel

McClatchy NewspapersNovember 25, 2011 

The Mavi Marmara ship, the lead boat of a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip which was stormed by Israeli naval commandos in a predawn confrontation, sails into the port of Ashdod, Israel, Monday, May 31, 2010. Israeli naval commandos stormed a flotilla of ships carrying aid and hundreds of pro-Palestinian activists to the blockaded Gaza Strip on Monday, killing nine passengers in a botched raid that provoked international outrage and a diplomatic crisis. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

ASSOCIATED PRESS

ISTANBUL — Turkey sees no possibility of resuming full diplomatic relations with Israel unless Israel apologizes and pays damages for the deaths its commandos caused last year aboard a Turkish ship that was trying to run Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, Turkey's foreign minister said Friday.

"Israel buried our friendship in the deep waters of the Mediterranean," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in response to a question on whether Turkish-Israeli relations would recover in the near future.

Turkey, which became the first Muslim country to recognize Israel in 1949, was considered Israel's closest ally in the Middle East until September, when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador, canceled all military cooperation agreements and downgraded its relations with the Jewish state after Israel refused to apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens who were aboard the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 when it was boarded by Israeli commandos rappelling from helicopters.

A U.N. report on the incident that was released in September said Israel had used excessive force to stop the ship, though it endorsed Israel's right to blockade Gaza.

Davutoglu said Friday that Turkey's position on the incident hadn't changed: that Israel should apologize and compensate the families of the Mavi Marmara dead.

Until then, he said, relations between Turkey and Israel couldn't be normalized.

Davutoglu also criticized Israel for continuing to expand settlements in areas of the West Bank that Palestinians consider part of a future Palestinian state.

"They are unfortunately part of the problem now," Davutoglu said of Israel.

Davutoglu made the comments after meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Giulio Terzi, a former ambassador to the United States who was named foreign minister last week under the country's new government, led by Prime Minister Mario Monti.

(Yezdani is a McClatchy special correspondent.)

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