No Turkey apology or lifting of Gaza blockade

AFP , Wednesday 7 Sep 2011

Israeli transport minister Israel Katz upholds Israeli "interests," says the government will not apologize about the army's deadly attack on the Turkish flotilla in 2010

The Mavi Marmara ship sails into the port of Ashdod, Israel, May 2010, (AP).

Israel will not apologise to Turkey for a deadly May 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla and will not lift its blockade on the Gaza Strip, an Israeli minister insisted on Wednesday, as ties with Ankara sank to new lows.

"Israel defends its interests and its government will not apologise," said Israel Katz, Israel's transport minister and a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party.

Katz, who spoke on Israeli public radio, made the comments a day after Ankara reiterated it was suspending military deals with the Jewish state and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated that he would seek to visit the Gaza Strip.

Ties between Turkey and Israel, once close allies, have been in crisis in recent days over Israel's 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, which left nine Turkish citizens dead.

Relations had already frayed over the incident but tensions reached new highs last week after the UN published a report on the raid, accusing Israel of using excessive force during the operation, but endorsing the Jewish state's naval blockade on Gaza.

Turkey responded angrily to the report, announcing the expulsion of Israel's ambassador and suspending military agreements with the Jewish state.

The report's publication had been delayed several times while the two countries tried to patch up relations. Ankara had called on Israel to offer an apology for the raid, compensation and to lift the blockade on Gaza, terms all rejected by the Israeli government.

On Wednesday, Katz reiterated that the Gaza blockade would not be lifted.

"Israel maintains its naval blockade of Gaza to stop the transfer of weapons to terrorists from Hamas," he said, referring to the Islamist movement that rules the coastal territory.

Israel has accepted the UN report, with some reservations, but Turkey dismissed its findings and has threatened to lodge a legal case against the Jewish state before the International Criminal Court.

Also speaking on Israeli public radio, opposition leader Tzipi Livni said the deterioration in ties between the two countries had been happening for over two years and was in part the consequence of failed Israeli policy.

"Turkey feels that Israel is isolated and weak, and that its ties with the United States are in a delicate state... If the peace process (with the Palestinians) hadn't stopped, Turkey wouldn't be acting like this," she said.

The deterioration in ties has seen Ankara pledge to suspend all military trade agreements with Israel, though private trade between the two nations is expected to continue.

On Wednesday, Israeli media cited Israel's Industry, Commerce and Employment Minister Shalom Simhon as saying he believed "at stormy times like this, commercial exchanges can serve as a way to improve bilateral relations."

Trade between Israel and Turkey has been rising, despite the political crisis brewing in recent year.

According to the Israel Exports Institute, exports from the Jewish state to Turkey totalled $858 million (609 million euros) in the first half of 2011, rising around 23 percent from the same period last year.

For the whole of 2011, exports were valued at $1.7 billion (1.2 billion euros).

Israeli imports from Turkey were valued at $1.8 billion for the whole of 2010, up 30 percent from 2009, and accounted for $1.1 billion in the first half of 2011 alone, up 14 percent from the previous year.


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