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Turkey warships to Gaza threat 'grave': Israel minister

Turkish Prime Minister's plan for Turkish warships to escort aid ships to Gaza a "grave and serious" threat, says Israeli intelligence minister

AFP , Friday 9 Sep 2011
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Israeli Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor on Friday described as "grave and serious" a threat by the Turkish prime minister to send warships to escort any aid vessels trying to reach the Gaza Strip.


"These remarks are grave and serious, but we have no wish to add to the polemic," Meridor said on army radio.
"It is better to stay quiet and wait -- we have no interest in aggravating the situation by replying to such (verbal) attacks," he said.


Late on Thursday, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkish warships would escort any aid ships trying to reach Gaza in defiance of an Israeli naval blockade, in a bid to protect them from Israeli forces.


"Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip," Erdogan told Al Jazeera television, according to an Arab-language translation of his comments in Turkish.
"From now on, we will no longer allow these boats to be the targets of attacks by Israel, like the one on the Freedom Flotilla, because then Israel will have to deal with an appropriate response," he warned.


Erdogan was referring to the clash on 31 May last year when Israeli commandos stormed a six-ship flotilla in international waters in a bid to stop it from breaching its naval blockade on Gaza.


During the ensuing confrontation, Israeli troops killed nine Turks on board a Turkish ferry, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries that has strained relations to breaking point.


"Turkey will be firm on its right to control the territorial waters in the east of the Mediterranean," Erdogan added.


Ankara had also "undertaken measures to prevent Israel unilaterally exploiting" the region's natural resources, he warned, referring to offshore gas reserves in the eastern Mediterranean.


A senior Israeli official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, called the warships threat "a very grave provocation."
"It is very difficult to imagine that Turkey would go so far as to take such action, given its commitments to NATO," the official said.


Meridor said Turkey "would be violating international law" if it tried to break Israel's blockade on Gaza by force.


A UN report into the flotilla incident which was published last week declared the naval embargo to be legal, although it chastised Israel for using excessive force in the raid.
Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military ties, including defence-related trade contracts, in retaliation for Israel's refusal to apologise for the raid.

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