|Israeli commandos raided a Gaza-bound aid flotilla in 2010, killing nine people and igniting a diplomatic row [EPA]|
Turkey’s naval forces would escort Turkish humanitarian aid ships bound for the Gaza Strip, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister has said, following Israel’s refusal to apologise for its deadly raid on an aid flotilla heading to the besieged Palestinian territory in May 2010.
“We have humanitarian aid to be sent there. And our humanitarian aid will not be attacked anymore, as happened to the Mavi Marmara,” he told the Al Jazeera on Thursday.
“Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip.”
Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, the ship which aimed to break Israel’s naval blockade, and killed nine people – eight Turks and one US citizen of Turkish origin – in international waters, causing a diplomatic row between the two countries.
Erdogan also said that Turkey would closely monitor international waters and had taken steps to prevent what he called Israel’s unilateral exploitation of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
Responding to Erdogan’s interview, Dan Meridor, Israel’s intelligence minister, told Israel army radio: “These remarks are grave and serious, but we have no wish to add to the polemic.
“It is better to stay quiet and wait – we have no interest in aggravating the situation by replying to such [verbal] attacks.”
Turkey’s opposition too criticised Erdogan’s comments on Friday.
Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, said Turkey’s Red Crescent was already sending aid to Gaza without breaching the blockade.
He called on Erdogan to “justify” in parliament the threats to send warships to escort aid ships.
Turkish-Israeli relations hit a low last week after a UN report on the deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship said that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legitimate but its raid on the flotilla trying to break the blockade was “excessive and unreasonable.”
Turkey has since expelled top Israeli diplomats, cut military ties with the country, pledged to lobby other nations in support of the Palestinians’ statehood bid at the UN in September and promised increased Turkish naval patrols in the Mediterranean.
Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives aboard the flotilla, but has refused to apologise, saying its forces acted in self-defence.
Turkey, however, is still seeking an apology in order to normalise a relationship once seen as a cornerstone of regional stability.