Turkey and Israel continuing talks on Gaza boat deal

 

CONTACTS ARE continuing between Israel and Turkey over a compensation deal for the nine Turkish activists killed in clashes when Israeli commandos intercepted the Gaza-bound international aid flotilla in May.

Israel is also likely to express “regret” and “sorrow” over the incident, even though Ankara is insisting on a formal apology to the Turkish people.

Turkey, once Israel’s closest ally in the region, withdrew its ambassador following the deadly maritime raid, and has since taken steps to improve ties with Syria and Iran, Israel’s regional rivals.

Israeli officials remained tight-lipped over the ongoing contacts, and it is not clear at this juncture if Jerusalem plans to pay compensation to activists who were injured, including two Irish nationals.

The thaw in relations came last weekend when Ankara responded swiftly to the request from Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu for international assistance to help fight the country’s worst ever forest fire, which killed 42 people.

Turkey sent two firefighting planes and the humanitarian gesture featured prominently in the Israeli media.

What was dubbed “fire diplomacy” paved the way for talks in Geneva earlier this week between Israeli and Turkish officials aimed at ending the ongoing dispute over the flotilla incident.

According to unconfirmed reports, Israel will pay $100,000 to the families of each of the nine activists who were killed aboard the Turkish vessel the Mavi Marmara. But Turkish foreign minister Ahmed Davutoglu yesterday rejected reports of an imminent deal as “speculative”, and insisted that his government’s demand for an apology from Israel had not changed.

Ron Dermer, an adviser to Mr Netanyahu, stressed that Israel wanted to prevent the possibility of international law suits against the commandos.

“What is important to the prime minister is to protect the marines and commanders. We have said at every discussion that the troops acted in self-defence – there’s no question about it – and not out of malice.”

Mr Netanyahu was criticised by his hardline foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who said that an apology to Turkey would be tantamount to surrendering to terrorism, and if anyone needed to apologise it was Turkey.

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert also criticised Mr Netanyahu yesterday.

“When we justly said that no one would break the blockade of Gaza and no one would attempt to bring ships into a place that could possibly endanger the security of Israel – we prevented this and we felt very strongly about our decisions. Today, we’re thinking about reparations and on how to apologise.”