(AFP) – Jul 6, 2010
ANKARA — Turkey's foreign minister Tuesday insisted on an Israeli apology for a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship but did not repeat a threat to break off diplomatic ties.
Israel must apologise for the May 31 bloodshed and pay compensation for the nine Turkish victims or "Turkey will not stay indifferent," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview.
Stoking tensions between the one-time allies, the minister told the Hurriyet daily Monday that Turkey would sever ties if Israel failed to meet Ankara's conditions to mend fences.
"Israel should either apologise and pay compensation unilaterally as a result of its own inquiry ... or if it does not want to do that... it should wait for the results of (a probe by) an international commission," Davutoglu told the TGRT channel on Tuesday.
"If those two conditions do not materialise, Turkey is not any country, Turkey will not stay indifferent," he said.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out an apology and a senior government official reiterated Monday that "Israel will never apologise for defending its citizens."
Davutoglu said he conveyed Turkey's demands to Israeli trade minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer when the two met secretly in Brussels last week in a bid to find a way out of the crisis.
The meeting sparked tensions within Israel's ruling coalition as it emerged that Netanyahu approved the talks without informing Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
Referring to his earlier threat to cut ties, Davutoglu said he "was compelled to make that statement because it was said that our demands would not be met while that turmoil was happening in Israel" over the Brussels talks.
"We are absolutely determined to follow up the issue until the end ... to protect the rights of its citizens," he said.
Davutoglu slammed his Israeli counterpart when asked about reports quoting Lieberman as saying that Turkey should apologise.
"What Lieberman says has no value for us," Davutoglu said, adding that he did not view Israel's foreign minister as an interlocutor "owing to his rhetoric and attitudes."
The Turkish-Israeli turmoil was expected to be on the agenda of Netanyahu's meeting with US President Barack Obama on Tuesday.
Washington has said it is working to heal the rift between its two Middle East allies. It is also concerned that the Islamist-rooted government in Ankara is taking Turkey, NATO's sole mainly Muslim member, away from the West.
In his Monday's remarks, Davutoglu said Turkey had closed its airspace to all Israeli military aircraft and hinted the ban might be extended to civilian flights.
Eight Turks and a dual US-Turkish citizen were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish ferry, Mavi Marmara, one of six boats trying to take aid to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.
Israel said its soldiers used force after passengers attacked them with sticks and knives. Activists say the troops opened fire as soon as they landed.
Turkey recalled its ambassador from Israel and cancelled three planned joint military exercises immediately after the raid.
Bilateral ties were strained by Israel's invasion of Gaza last year, which triggered vehement Turkish criticism.
Turkey's government, the offshoot of banned Islamist movement, has irked Israel with its close contacts with Iran and for hosting in 2006 the leader of Hamas, the radical Palestinian group controlling Gaza.
Turkish-Israeli ties had flourished for years after the two countries signed a military cooperation accord in 1996.
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