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Turkey leads condemnation of Israel at regional summit

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan (pictured), at a regional summit attended by Russia, Iran and Syria, led twenty-one countries in condemning Israel over its assault last week on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

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AFP - Twenty-one regional countries, led by Turkey, condemned Tuesday Israel over its deadly raid on Gaza-bound aid ships at the end of a security forum here.

All member states, except Israel, "expressed their grave concern and condemnation for the actions undertaken by the Israeli Defence Forces" against the flotilla in international waters in the Mediterranean, a statement issued at the end of the gathering said.

"This is a clear manifestation of how Israel has isolated itself," Turkish President Abdullah Gul, who chaired the summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), told reporters.

The statement said all members, except Israel, denounced the May 31 raid, in which nine Turks were killed, as a "blatant violation" of international law and "deeply deplored" the loss of civilian life.

Presidents Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Bashar al-Assad of Syria, Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan as well as Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas attended the gathering.

Speaking on the sidelines of the summit, Putin said Russia would raise at the United Nations the controversial issue of who should probe the Israeli raid.

"We are deeply worried by such a crude violation of the universally recognized norms of international law," he told reporters, stressing the raid took place in international waters off the besieged Gaza Strip.

"We can't allow a new flame to flare up in the Middle East... We will raise the issue at the United Nations, we're working at it," he said.

The condemnation of Israel came as part of "the chairman's conclusions" of the summit since a formal joint statement required a consensus, which Israel's participation made impossible, Gul said.

Israeli leaders shunned the event, but Israeli ambassador to Turkey Gabby Levy represented the Jewish state and was part of the talks, a Turkish diplomat said earlier.

The raid on the flotilla sparked global outrage and plunged Israel's already strained ties with NATO member Turkey, once a close ally, into deep crisis.

Turkey said Monday that normalisation of ties with Israel would be "out of the question" if it failed to agree to an international probe into the bloodshed, a move the Jewish state has so far rejected.

Ankara has recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and scrapped joint military drills, saying economic and defence ties with Israel would be reduced to a "minimum level."

Tuesday's summit focused on issues such as nuclear disarmement, peaceful use of nuclear energy and confidence-building measures in Asia.

CICA was set up in 2002 on a proposal by Kazakhstan with the aim of promoting peace, security and stability in Asia.

With the admission of Iraq and Vietnam Tuesday, the number of the group's members reached 22, some with a history of hostility such as Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran, Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Egypt.

Turkey, a NATO member vying for European Union membership, has in recent years pushed for a greater say in the Middle East.

Together with Brazil, it brokered a nuclear fuel swap deal with Iran last month, but the proposed accord has been dismissed by the United States, which continues to push for fresh sanctions against the Islamic republic.

Turkey's improving ties with Iran and Syria, against the backdrop of simmering tensions with Israel, have led to concerns that its governing party, the moderate offshoot of a banned Islamist movement, is shifting the country away from the West.
 

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