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Middle East
Israeli leaders differ on apology
PM rejects Avigdor Lieberman's statement that Israel should not apologise to Turkey for deadly Gaza flotilla raid.
Last Modified: 26 Dec 2010 22:37 GMT
 "I think the matter of an apology borders on chutzpah or beyond," Lieberman told diplomats in a speech [Reuters]

Avigdor Lieberman, Israel's foreign minister, has vowed that Israel would not apologise to Turkey for a commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship that killed nine Turkish activists.

Speaking in Jerusalem at a meeting of Israel's ambassadors on Sunday, Lieberman said Ankara's demand for an apology before normalising relations between the former allies was "a cheek".

"The ones who have to apologise are the government of Turkey for supporting terror," he said. "There will be no apology" from Israel.

But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's office, in a statement, distanced itself from Lieberman.

Lieberman was "only expressing a personal opinion, like other ministers do," it said. "Mr Netanyahu is the only one who can express the position of Israel" on the dispute with Turkey.

Renewed alliance

High-ranking Israeli and Turkish officials recently held two days of talks in the Swiss capital Geneva aimed at mending ties after Turkey sent firefighters to help Israel fight a wildfire earlier this month.

The draft agreement calls for Israel to apologise for May's Mavi Marmara raid, compensate the victims' families and for both sides to resume full ties, including the return of Turkey's ambassador to Tel Aviv, who was recalled over the incident.

But there is significant Israeli opposition to issuing an apology for the incident, particularly because it could be seen as an admission of liability and open Israel or its troops to prosecution in international courts.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had already been strained before the raid, over Israel's devastating war on Gaza launched in late December 2008.

Israel was also unhappy with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's frequent outbursts against the Jewish state and his defence of the Palestinian movement Hamas which rules Gaza.

Ankara's position

Turkey's foreign minister said on Saturday that his country wanted improved ties with Israel, but that this would be contingent on Israel apologising and offering compensation for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

"We have the intention of making peace with Israel," Ahmet Davutoglu told state media on Saturday.

"Why should we want bad relations with a country with whom we are trying to broker peace," he said, referring to Turkey's mediation between Israel and Syria in 2008.

"Turkish citizens have been killed in international waters, nothing can cover up this truth," he added.

"We want to both preserve relations and defend our rights. If our friendship with Israel is to continue, the way for it is to apologise and offer compensation."

History of ties

The US and European Union have called on Turkey and Israel to overcome tensions and renew close links that could be used to help with negotiations regarding peace in the Middle East.

The two countries built strong military and economic ties over the past 15 years, with Turkey becoming Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world.

However, relations soured when Turkey's government began to increasingly criticise Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

Relations hit an all-time low in May, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine people from Turkey on board a Gaza-bound ship that tried to break Israel's naval blockade.

Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and Turkish leaders denounced Israel repeatedly over the raid.

Source:
Agencies
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