- Gaza Strip - Israel - Turkey
Israel rules out apology for Gaza boat raid as Turkey threatens to sever ties
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says Turkey will sever ties with Israel unless it apologises for a May 31 raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship that killed nine Turkish activists. Israel has ruled out apologising for the incident.
AFP - 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 has 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 have 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 Israel's own inquiry would be acceptable if it resulted in an apology and compensation of the victims' families, Hurriyet reported.
"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 Friday and a senior government official underlined that position Monday.
"Israel will never apologise 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 attacked the Turkish position.
"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, 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, the process of isolating Israel will continue," he added.
Davutoglu said a 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.
Israel's Transport Minister Yisrael Katz warned of retaliatory measures if Ankara closed its airspace to Israeli commercial planes.
"If that happens we will take appropriate action and obviously ban Turkish airlines," Katz told public radio.
"It would be a violation of European aviation regulations; it would harm all the companies that fly to Israel, not just Israeli companies," he said.
Last week, Turkey revealed it had denied overflight permission to two Israeli military planes, but said it was not a generalised ban.
Eight Turks and a dual US-Turkish citizen were killed when Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara ferry, one of six boats trying to take aid to the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip.
Ankara immediately recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled 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 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 had met under US pressure.
"We did not meet on the prompting of the United States," he told Hurriyet. US President Barack Obama had been told in advance of the talks when he met Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Toronto in late June, he added.
Washington had earlier said it was working to heal the rift between its two main allies in the Middle East.
It is alarmed over concerns that Erdogan's government is taking Turkey, NATO's sole mainly Muslim member, away from the West.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned Monday that the crisis could affect stability in the Middle East.
"If the relationship between Turkey and Israel is not renewed it will be very difficult for Turkey to play a role in negotiations" to revive the Middle East peace process, Assad said on an official visit to Spain.
This would "without doubt affect the stability in the region," he added.