Israel-Turkey flotilla talks break down

AFP , Thursday 7 Jul 2011

A UN-sponsored report accused Israel of using force prematurely and causing "unacceptable" deaths in its assault of a Gaza-bound ship that killed nine Turks over a year ago, a Turkish source said Thursday.

Israel and Turkey failed to reach agreement, refusing to sign the report about the Israeli raid on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in May last year, which was due to be handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later Thursday, the source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

"Non-violent options should have been used in the first instance," the Turkish source quoted the report as saying.

The dead and wounded resulting from the raid were "unacceptable," the report added.

The Mavi Marmara was leading a flotilla carrying humanitarian aid to the Palestinian territory, subject to an Israeli-imposed blockade, when an intervention by Israeli security forces in international waters ended in bloodshed.

Nine Turkish passengers were killed in the assault on the ship that had been chartered by a Turkish Islamist group.

Following the May 31 raid, Turkey withdrew its ambassador in Tel Aviv, vowing that bilateral relations "would never be the same."

Israel refused to sign the report after a commission of inquiry concluded that its forces had acted in an "excessive" manner by swooping on the Mavi Marmara a long way from the Gaza Strip and without giving a final warning to the vessel.

The source said Turkey's refusal to sign off on the report stemmed from the fact that it did not say Israel's blockade of Gaza was illegal.

Over the past year, Ankara has repeatedly said it was demanding apologies and compensation from Israel for the victims' families.

Still, there have been signs in recent weeks that the two countries were trying to overcome their differences.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel and Turkey were looking to heal the breach in relations that followed the flotilla incident.

"We are seeking ways of improving our current relations," Netanyahu told journalists in Bucharest on Wednesday.

Several attempts to restore ties between the former close allies have led nowhere, but Israel was encouraged after the owners of the Turkish ferry said it would not be participating in a second attempt to reach Gaza this month.

"We are trying to make concrete steps," Netanyahu said.

"Apart from the fact that Turkey did not participate in the (latest) flotilla, there are other signs allowing us to talk of an improvement in our relations."

Key to any reconciliation is Turkey's demand that Israel apologise for its actions.

But Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman reiterated his opposition to such a step in remarks to the parliamentary Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee.

"We have no interest in a confrontation with Turkey and we are in favour of renewing our relations with Turkey; we have no territorial dispute with Turkey and we are ready to reach a compromise," he said.

"We are not prepared to be dictated to and we are not prepared to be humiliated or to abandon our troops.

"An apology is not a compromise -- in my view, it is humiliation and abandonment of our soldiers," he continued.

On Tuesday, Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said contacts with Turkey had been intensified in order to solve the crisis and "turn the page" on previous disagreements.

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