05 July 2010

Israel brushes off Turkish apology calls on raid

Jerusalem (CNN) -- "Israel will never apologize for defending its citizens," a high-ranking Israeli government official told CNN on Monday, after Turkey reportedly demanded an apology or an inquiry into an Israeli raid on an aid ship that killed nine Turkish citizens.
"Of course we regret the loss of life, but it was not the Israeli side that initiated the violence," the official said.
Hurriyet newspaper quoted Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on Monday as saying that Turkey would "cut off relations" with Israel unless "they either apologize or accept an international commission and its report."
"(The) Israelis have three options: They will either apologize or acknowledge an international-impartial inquiry and its conclusion. Otherwise, our diplomatic ties will be cut off," Davutoglu told Hurriyet early Sunday in an interview on his plane returning from Kyrgyzstan, the newspaper reported.
A Turkish foreign ministry official later told CNN that Davutoglu's comments were "a strong warning to Israel," yet did not exactly mean ending relations.
The wide-ranging military and diplomatic alliance between the Jewish state and its powerful regional ally has been badly shaken by the May 31 Israeli raid on a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza.
The six vessels in the convoy were stopped by Israeli commandos on May 31. Nine activists were killed after violence erupted on one of the ships, the Mavi Marmara.
Israel said its troops were attacked with knives, metal poles and other objects. But passengers on board the boat insist they were fired upon without provocation.
Senior officials from Israel and Turkey held a secret meeting in Europe last week, the first ministerial meeting between the two countries since the Gaza flotilla incident, the two countries said Thursday.
Davutoglu met Israeli Industry and Trade Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer on Wednesday, the two sides said, but offered different locations for the meeting. Each also said the meeting happened on the other's initiative.
Turkey signalled Monday it will not relax pressure on Israel in its attempt to secure compensation for the nine victims.
The ministry spokesman said Turkey had not yet reached the point of cutting off relations with Israel but made it clear that even a full apology would not itself repair damaged relations.
The point of an apology would be to lead to compensation for those who died and to the lifting of the blockade of Gaza, Burak Ozugergin told CNN.
The raid on the flotilla triggered a wave of international condemnation of Israel and its policies toward Gaza.
Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel after the incident and denied Israeli military planes access to its airspace.
Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas took over Gaza three years ago.
Israeli authorities say the blockade is in place to stop weapons from reaching militants in Gaza who want to attack Israel.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently announced an easing of the Gaza blockade. The changes include expanding operations at the existing land crossings, as well as streamlining the authorization process for international aid groups the Israeli government recognizes.
The naval blockade remains in place.
Palestinian officials say the steps are an improvement but still insist that the blockade should be completely lifted.