Turkey expels Israeli envoy over Gaza flotilla raid


TURKEY SHOWED its continuing anger over the May 2010 commando raid on the Gaza-bound MV Mavi Marmarayesterday by expelling Israel’s ambassador, reducing diplomatic representation between the two countries and suspending military accords.

Responding, Israel reaffirmed that it would not apologise over the incident.

At the same time yesterday, it was reported that a United Nations investigation upheld the legality of Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza but criticised as “excessive and unreasonable” its use of military force against the flotilla.

It is understood that the report, details of which were obtained by The New York Times, also criticised the actions of the flotilla organisers.

In Jerusalem, a diplomatic official reacted to Ankara’s scaling back of diplomatic relations by saying Israel cherished ties with Turkey, until a few years ago Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world, and claimed Israel had made numerous attempts over the last few months to settle the dispute, but would not accede to Ankara’s demand for a formal apology.

“As advised in the UN Palmer report, Israel once again expresses its regret over the loss of life, but will not apologise for its soldiers taking action to defend their lives. As any other state, Israel has the right to defend its civilians and soldiers,” the official said. Turkey’s decision followed media leaks of the findings of the United Nations panel, headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, into the Mavi Marmaraincident, in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed. Publication of the report has been delayed on three occasions in order to give extra time to Israel and Turkey to reach a compromise.

Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu blamed Israel for the breakdown in relations. “Israel has squandered all of the chances that were given to them to apologise and end the crisis. The Israeli government see themselves [as being] above international laws and human conscience,” he said.

Mr Davutoglu also announced that Ankara would both initiate legal action against the Gaza blockade in international courts, and aid families of those killed in the flotilla raid in seeking litigation against Israel. He made it clear that Turkey rejected the findings of the Palmer committee.

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

In addition to a formal Israeli apology, Ankara demanded that Jerusalem pay compensation to the victims’ families and end the blockade on Gaza.

Israel offered to express regret over the loss of life but senior ministers, including foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, spoke out publicly against an apology. Israel reportedly offered $100,000 compensation to the families of each of the nine victims.

Arthur Beesley in Sopot, Poland, adds: Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs Eamon Gilmore said the conclusion of the UN review that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal did not change the Government’s view that it should be lifted.

“The blockade should be ended and it has always been our view that the blockade of Gaza should be ended,” he said on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting here.

Asked if he was disputing the UN panel’s view that the blockade was valid, Mr Gilmore said the situation had should be assessed from a political perspective. “I think you have to take this at two levels: I mean you can take it at a very legalistic level as to whether the blockade is legal or not; I think that we have to take it at the political level,” he said.

“I think that the conclusions of the report that excessive force was used on the flotilla that hasn’t come as a major surprise to us. That was certainly our assessment of the situation that there was excessive force used, people killed.”