|Cruise liner Mavi Marmara is pictured under maintenance in a shipyard in Istanbul on May 30, 2011 [Reuters]|
Turkey’s prime minister said on Friday that Israel must apologise for last year’s deadly raid on a Turkish ship bound for Gaza, as well as lift its blockade of the territory, if it wants to normalise diplomatic ties.
Israel has so far rejected Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s demand.
In a speech to parliament ahead of the expected release of a United Nations report on the raid, Erdogan gave no sign of softening, despite reports in recent weeks that the two sides have been holding secret talks to mend fences.
Ankara has repeatedly called on Israel to apologise and pay compensation for the killing of nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists when Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara at sea last year.
“Normalisation of relations between the two countries is unthinkable unless Israel apologises for this illegal act which is against all international law and values, pays compensation to the relatives of those who lost their lives in this atrocious event and lifts the embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said.
Israel has agreed in principle to pay compensation but has ruled out issuing an apology, saying it would be unwarranted and dishonourable.
Palmer Commission report
An Israeli official said on Thursday a UN inquiry commission chaired by Geoffrey Palmer, former New Zealand premier, was due to publish its report on July 27, after delays to enable further talks between Israel and Turkey.
In remarks to Israel’s Channel 1 television on Friday night, Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, dismissed Erdogan’s call for an apology and said he expected the UN inquiry to vindicate Israel’s actions.
“Israel did not commit any crime … [in my opinion] the Palmer Commission will [say] that Israel acted according to international law. The blockade is legal, stopping the ships is legal, the use of force in these circumstances is justified,” Barak said.
Israeli officials have also voiced concern that the marine commandos, who they say acted in self-defence after being attacked by passengers, would be exposed to prosecution abroad because an apology would be seen as an admission of culpability.
Turkish and Israeli officials are reported to be trying to overcome disagreements over the final wording of the report.
A Turkish official told the Reuters news agency on Friday that it was Turkey’s view that the Palmer report should not deviate from the UN Human Rights Council report issued last September, which branded both the blockade and the Israeli raid as “illegal”.
“We are expecting any legal element mentioned in the report regarding the blockade not to contradict the established rules of the international law and not to contradict the report published by the UN Human Rights’ Council,” the official, who requested anonymity, said.
Israel had boycotted the human rights council’s panel, calling it biased and saying the blockade is warranted to prevent arms from reaching Gaza’s ruling Hamas organisation which is hostile to the Jewish state.
Palestinians and their supporters regard the siege as illegal pressure on the heavily aid-dependent strip.
Turkey’s friendship with Israel withered after Erdogan condemned an Israeli offensive launched in Gaza in December 2008, and relations went into deep freeze after the Mavi Marmara incident.