Turkey PM: Israel must lift blockade, & apologize for last year's Gaza flotilla raid

12:00 Jul 8 2011 Ankara, Turkey

By Reuters

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Friday that it was "unthinkable" to normalize ties with Israel unless Israel apologized for the killing of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara ship bound for the Gaza Strip last year.

Erdogan also said that two other conditions for the normalization of ties were Israel lifting its blockade of Gaza and Israel paying compensation to the victims of the flotilla raid.

Erdogan's statements came during a speech to the Turkish parliament unveiling his new government's program.

"Normalization of relations between the two countries is unthinkable unless Israel apologizes for this illegal act which is against all international law and values, pays compensation to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this atrocious event and lifts the embargo on Gaza," Erdogan said, to the applause of his AK Party lawmakers.

On Thursday, an Israeli official said that a UN report on Israel's interception of last year's flotilla would be published on July 27 after delays to enable talks between Israel and Turkey.

In remarks to Channel 1 television on Friday night, Defense Minister Ehud Barak dismissed Erdogan's call for an apology and said he expected the UN inquiry to vindicate Israel's actions.

"Israel did not commit any crime ... (in my opinion) the Palmer commission will (say) that Israel acted according to international law. The blockade is legal, stopping the ships is
legal, the use of force in these circumstances is justified," Barak said.

Israeli officials have also voiced concern that the naval commandos who carried out the interception of the flotilla would be exposed to prosecution abroad because an apology would be seen as an admission of culpability. Israel has said that the commandos acted in self-defense after being attacked by passengers.

Final wording

Turkish and Israeli officials are reported to be trying to overcome disagreements over the final wording of the report.

A Turkish official told Reuters on Friday that it was Turkey's view that the Palmer report should not deviate from the UN Human Rights Council report issued last September, which branded both the blockade and the Israeli raid as "illegal".

"We are expecting any legal element mentioned in the report regarding the blockade not to contradict the established rules of the international law and not to contradict the report published by the UN Human Rights' Council," the official, who requested anonymity, said.

Israel had boycotted the human rights council's panel, calling it biased.

Israel says the blockade of Gaza is warranted to prevent arms reaching Gaza's ruling Hamas organization. Palestinians and their supporters regard the blockade as illegal pressure on the heavily aid-dependent coastal enclave.

Turkey's friendship with Israel withered after Erdogan condemned an Israeli offensive launched in Gaza in December 2008, and relations went into deep freeze after the Mavi Marmara incident.
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