Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan addresses his supporters at the Presidential Palace in Ankara, Turkey, April 17, 2017. REUTERS/Umit Bektas

Why is Trump strict with Assad but not with Erdogan?


As we watch a new American administration crafting its foreign policy, we are reminded that the world is a complicated place and that defining one’s policy towards it can be a complicated exercise. Look at what the Trump administration has done in three arenas in the last two weeks:

It bombed Syria, signaling that the US is going to intervene in certain places, even if there is no obvious immediate American interest at stake.

It pushed the envelope in North Korea, showing that the US is willing to be bolder in dealing with one of its most persistent and dangerous enemies (but how bolder, and in what way, is not yet clear).

It congratulated Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his narrow and controversial victory in a referendum that gives him unparalleled powers to rule his country.

What do we learn about Trump from these three events?

First of all, we learn – or should be reminded – that everything in this world is interconnected. Turkey is needed if Syria is to be tamed. North Korea is a Syrian ally and provided it with the material to attempt to build a nuclear bomb. The Trump administration is making its first steps on the world stage and seems growingly aware of this fact. There are ideological inconsistencies that emerge as moves are made in such a world, but they are both inevitable and necessary.

Take, for example, the issue of intervention in the internal affairs of other countries. In Syria, Trump intervened. In Turkey, where the results of a referendum threaten to further erode the democratic character of the country, he chooses to be silent. The Europeans responded to the vote in Turkey with disappointment and even outrage – but the US President made a congratulatory phone call to Erdogan.

The Russians are more consistent than Trump in such cases. As a rule, they oppose intervention in the internal affairs of other countries (of course, they intervene when it suits them). The Europeans are also more consistent: they want to educate everyone (but are unwilling to do much about it except talking). The question is for Trump: why be strict with Syria’s Assad and not with Turkey’s Erdogan?

One possible answer is that Trump acts impulsively and without strategic reasons. He was moved by what he “saw on TV,” as Steve Coll writes in the New Yorker. But Coll himself counts more possible reasons. “One limited rationale might be that Syria’s conflict has eroded global treaties banning the use of chemical arms.” Put another way: Erdogan’s affair is truly “internal” – it concerns Turkey alone. And Trump does not feel any need to lecture Erdogan on the value of democracy.

The US wants Turkey’s cooperation on certain matters and is not interested in the country’s domestic situation as long as it has this cooperation. Assad’s behavior is different. True, what Assad does is part of an internal battle for superiority within Syria. But the use of chemical weapons has impact on foreign affairs. It breaks a taboo that is necessary for other countries and actors to think twice before they use such weapons (hence, the miserable comment by Sean Spicer on Hitler). Of course, the outrageous behavior of North Korea is even less “domestic” in nature. Thus, the Trump administration is not inconsistent in its decision to tackle it.

But there are also other ways of looking at these three actions. For example, we might consider the feasibility of action – and Trump’s pragmatic calculation – for each of them. Why bomb Syria? Because the US can do it without having to pay a serious price for it. This was precise, limited, well-targeted.

Why accept Erdogan’s victory without much hesitation? Because there’s nothing of value the US can do about it. The Europeans will protest and cry, but this seems to have little effect on Erdogan and Turkey’s voters. The US, in this case, is keeping its eye on the ball: Turkey is needed to fight ISIS and tame Syria. There is no value in picking a fight with it. Not until it does things that shake the international order.

And what about North Korea? Well, Trump’s policy in North Korea is still a mystery. He talks tough, because he can and, more importantly, because he hopes that this will help him convince the Chinese that it is time for them to be more active in calming their problematic neighbor. Calming, but not much more than that. Getting rid of the regime in North Korea or disarming its nuclear capabilities are not realistic goals at the moment.

As Ian Buruma explains in the Atlantic, “China is the only power with any influence in North Korea, but the last thing Beijing wants is for its communist neighbor to collapse. The Kim regime may be annoying, but a united Korea filled with U.S. military bases would be worse, not to mention the potential refugee crisis on China’s borders.”

What do we learn from all this?

First, Trump’s foreign policy is less confusing than some newspapers want you to think. There are confusing statements here and there, and lack of coordination, but the overall policy is not inconsistent and can be easily explained.

Second, Trump does not feel committed to always following the script that he carved during his campaign – but also that his policy is going to resemble many of the things that he talked about as a candidate.

Third, Trump as a foreign policy leader currently has two instinctive postures, the brutal warrior and the deal maker. He is not an educator, he is not a policy wonk, he is not an ideologue, he does not belong to a school of thought. He is the president who’s willing to use the Tomahawk when you stand in his way and who’s willing to cut a deal when you’re ready to negotiate.

Photo by CBN Documentaries
CC BY-SA 3.0

Europe’s refugee crisis: An inside look with Maya Rimer


The Refugee crisis in Europe, though seemingly distant and even sometimes obscure, is now actually more severe and relevant than ever. Every week thousands of immigrants are rescued from the Mediterranean, as many more enter from the east by any means possible.

2NJBIn Turkey millions of refugees, held back by Erdogan, await the opportunity to cross the border. As Europe is divided by the question of how to handle this influx of millions of immigrants, the situation in the refugee camps continues to worsen. But amidst this crisis there are rays of light and one of those rays are the many volunteers from all over the world who come to assist these migrants in need.

Maya Rimer recently returned from a period of 3 months working in refugee camps in Greece. Just before going back there, she came to tell 2NJB about her experience.

We also played some great music by the Wild Willows (Find them on Bandcamp too!)

Turkey’s Erdogan survives 5th attempted coup


This article originally appeared on The Media Line.

At least 194 are dead and 1,154 wounded in a failed military coup in Turkey, including 49 civilians, 41 police officers, and 104 coup plotters.

In some of the more dramatic moments of the violence, pro-coup Sikorsky helicopters attacked Parliament in Ankara with gunfire and bombs late Friday and into the morning. 

“There was a loud explosion and lots of dust. It was hard to breathe,” İlhan Cihaner, a Member of Parliament from the opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), told The Media Line. 

“Seven different parts of Parliament were attacked by the helicopter at the same moment.” 

Zeynep Altıok, another CHP MP, spoke to The Media Line from Parliament early Saturday afternoon while sporadic fighting continued outside.

“There are still attackers in the building,” she said. “Gunshots are continuing close to the main gate”

She described the extensive damage to the building.

“The Parliament was directly hit by one of the bombs,” she said. “If you saw a picture you wouldn’t even understand [where it was taken]. There’s that much damage here.”

The coup attempt started at around 10:00 p.m. Friday night as tanks shut down the two bridges spanning the Bosphorus, which separates the European and Asian sides of Istanbul, and a few low-flying F-16 fighter jets caused deafening sonic booms over Istanbul and Ankara.

Only a small portion of the armed forces participated in the coup attempt, including elements from the air force, the gendarmerie and the armed forces.

“It was a significant show of force but it was not a full show of force by the armed forces by any stretch of the imagination,” Paul T. Levin, Director of the Stockholm University Institute for Turkish Studies, told The Media Line.

Chief of General Staff Hulusi Akar was taken hostage by the plotters, who called themselves the “Peace in the Country Council.”

Pro-coup soldiers killed 17 policemen during an attack on the Gölbaşı Special Forces Department headquarters in the capital Ankara, which saw much of the most violent fighting.

Helicopters attacked a hotel in Marmaris where President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had been staying less than two hours earlier. An F-16 also dropped bombs near the Presidential Palace in Ankara, killing five.

Soldiers raided the Doğan Media Center, briefly commandeering at least two television stations and a newspaper office, and forcing an announcer from national broadcaster TRT to read their official statement on live television and declare a curfew. 

While Levin stresses that it’s still too early to know much about the coup plotters, he says it may be related to a past struggle between the government and military. The armed forces staged three armed coups and one peaceful one in the past, and even between coups exercised a great deal of influence over the civilian government.

“There’s been a struggle [for] control over the military. The [ruling] AKP [Justice and Development Party] seem to be moving in now to assert control,” he said.

Two trials, the first starting in 2008, accused an alleged secret organization, including much of Turkey’s top military brass, of planning a violent coup. Hundreds of officers were taken into custody, but released in 2013 after it was discovered that much of the key evidence had been fabricated.

“My understanding is that the second tier or junior leadership of the army was extremely disgruntled and upset over the way that the senior leadership had let themselves be humiliated,” Levin said. 

The AKP and President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have become increasingly authoritarian in recent years and hugely expanded their influence over almost all government institutions.

But, while the civilian government seems to have liberated itself from the military, the armed forces have resisted the AKP’s control.

“The military as an institution largely remained intact. It’s one of the few remaining institutions that’s been free from encroachments by the AKP,” Levin says.

The coup attempt seemed to draw little support, with all three opposition parties and several top generals quickly denouncing it, and many government supporters flooding the streets. Police forces also stayed loyal to the government. 

“It did seem very poorly coordinated,” Levin said. 

Early Saturday morning, two helicopters were shot down. Later, about fifty soldiers on the Bosphorus Bridge, some of whom had shot at civilians and police, surrendered. Some soldiers, most of whom appeared to be conscripts, were attacked and even beaten to death by pro government protestors. Hostages were freed.

By early evening, nearly 3,000 soldiers were in custody, including four generals and 29 colonels.

The AKP and Erdoğan accused their former ally and current arch-enemy Fethullah Gülen, a U.S.-based Islamic cleric and leader of a global movement, of orchestrating the coup, but offered little or no evidence. Gülen has denied the accusations. 

Nevertheless, Erdoğan described the coup as a “gift from God,” giving the government the impetus to ‘cleanse’ the military from alleged Gülen sympathizers.

Levin says the government is likely to respond to the failed coup with a crackdown.

On Saturday afternoon the government announced that 2745 judges, allegedly Gülen sympathizers, had been suspended, in yet another massive judicial purge.

Turkey’s Erdogan: Normalization of ties with Israel would benefit region


Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said the normalization of ties between his country and Israel would benefit the entire Middle East.

“This normalization process would be good for us, Israel, Palestine and the entire region,” Erdogan told reporters Sunday, the Turkish Daily Sabah reported. “The region definitely needs this. I don’t believe the Israeli public is pleased with the current state of relations. We need to consider the interests of the people of the region and introduce peace.”

Relations between Israel and Turkey broke down after the May 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed in an Israeli commando raid of a Turkish boat in a flotilla seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip

Erdogan reiterated his three conditions for restoring ties with Israel: an apology for the raid and the deaths, compensation to the victims’ families and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Erdogan in March 2013, after which representatives of the countries met for reconciliation talks that fell apart during the Gaza War the following year.

Israeli foreign minister calls Erdogan ‘anti-Semitic bully’


Israel's foreign minister called Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan an “anti-Semitic bully” in a meeting with Israeli ambassadors on Wednesday and said Europe was being cowardly in not taking him on.

In an address to Israeli envoys based in Europe and Asia, Avigdor Lieberman, the leader of far-right party Yisrael Beitenu, was withering about Erdogan, a staunch critic of Israeli policy towards the Palestinians.

“Civilized, politically correct Europe's silence over a anti-Semitic, neighborhood bully like Erdogan and his gang takes us back to the 1930s,” said Lieberman, referring to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany.

“We have to tell the truth and speak plainly, put it on the table,” he said.

A former nightclub bouncer who was born in Moldova and migrated to Israel in the 1970s, Lieberman was also critical of Europe's reaction to last week's Islamist attacks in Paris, saying the anti-Semitic nature of them had been downplayed.

“In the world and in Europe, most of the discussion was about freedom of expression, extremism and Islamophobia,” he said of the fallout from the attacks that killed 17 people, including four French Jews at a kosher supermarket.

“But the Jewish and anti-Semitic aspects were hardly mentioned and this is particularly grave.”

Relations between Israel and Turkey have declined markedly over the past five years, since Israeli forces stormed a Turkish ship, the Mavi Mamara, as it sailed towards Gaza as part of a flotilla challenging Israel's naval blockade of the Hamas Islamist-ruled Palestinian enclave in 2010.

Nine Turkish activists were killed on board in confrontations with the troops.

Erdogan was highly critical of Israel during his time as prime minister and again since becoming president last year.

During the war in Gaza last summer, the Turkish leader told a political rally: “(Israelis) have no conscience, no honor, no pride. Those who condemn Hitler day and night have surpassed Hitler in barbarism.”

He also cautioned supporters against taking their anger out on Turkey's Jewish population, which numbers around 17,000.

Lieberman, who has broken off his alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has stepped up his rhetoric on a range of issues in recent days as he tries to rally support for his party ahead of parliamentary elections on March 17.

Ergogan disregards Kerry request to postpone Gaza visit


Turkey's prime minister will go ahead with a planned visit next month to Gaza, despite a request from US Secretary of State John Kerry to postpone.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan reportedly refused Kerry's request Sunday to postpone the visit, during a meeting between the two leaders in Istanbul. Erdogan had previously postponed his visit from this month until next, to take place after a scheduled meeting in Washington in mid-May.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also asked Erdogan to delay the visit during a meeting between the two men in Istanbul, saying it could harm relations between the West Bank and Gaza.

Erdogan reportedly plans to visit Gaza on or around May 31, the three-year anniversary of the Mavi Marmara incident, in which nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli naval commandoes raided the ship attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israeli negotiators on Monday met in Ankara with Turkish officials to discuss paying compensation to the families of the victims of the 2010 raid.

The negotiations are part of the process of restoring diplomatic ties between Israel and Turkey which were severed following the raid and which began the process of being repaired following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's apology last month to Erdogan.

Injured Turks will sue Israeli soldiers despite Bibi’s apology


Turkish nationals injured in Israel's raid on the Mavi Marmara said they will sue Israeli soldiers and their commanders despite Israel's apology.

“We will continue with the criminal lawsuits we have opened against the Israeli soldiers and commanders, and we won't accept dropping this suit if compensation is paid,” Musa Cogas, who was injured on the Mavi Marmara, told Reuters on Monday.

Turkey and Israel agreed to normalize ties after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last month apologized for Israel's 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship as it attempted to evade a maritime blockade of Gaza and agreed to compensate the families of nine Turks killed in the ensuing violence when Israeli naval commandos boarded the ship.

As part of Israel's agreement on compensation, it wants lawsuits against Israeli soldiers dropped, according to Reuters.

A court case against former Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi and other high-ranking Israeli military officials opened in November in Istanbul. The charges reportedly include manslaughter and attempted manslaughter, causing bodily harm, deprivation of freedom, plundering, damage to property and illegal confiscation of property.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Netanyahu also agreed to ease the restriction of goods flowing into Gaza. Erdogan added that the normalization of relations with Israel would take time and would not take place until Israel fulfills the agreement. Erdogan is scheduled to visit the Hamas-run Gaza Strip this month.

Turkey withdrew its high-level diplomats from Israel and froze deals with Israel's military in the wake of the Mavi Marmara incident.

Israel's government-appointed Turkel Commission found in its investigation that the government and the military behaved appropriately, and that the blockade of Gaza was legal. The United Nations' Palmer Committee also found the blockade to be legal but said Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel.

Turkey's inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to be illegal.

Israel, Turkey to normalize ties after Israeli apology for 2010 flotilla raid


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to normalize relations after Netanyahu apologized and agreed to compensation for the 2010 Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged ship that left nine Turks dead.

The two men talked on Friday by phone, according to statements by Netanyahu's office and the White House.

“The two men agreed to restore normalization between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers,” said the Israeli statement.

The White House was first to report the conversation, with a statement by President Obama on the subject just after the completion of his three-day tour of Israel.

“I welcome the call today between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Prime Minister Erdogan,” Obama said in the statement. “The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security. I am hopeful that today's exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities.”

Netanyahu apologized for “operational errors” during the raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla.

“The Prime Minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life,” said the statement from Netanyahu's office. “In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologized to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”

Among the dead was a dual Turkish-American citizen. A senior Obama administration official described the call as a first step toward Israeli-Turkish reconciliation.

Israel Radio reported that Obama initiated the phone call in Netanyahu's presence, spoke with Erdogan, and then handed the receiver to Netanyahu.

Reuters, reporting from Ankara, said Erdogan expressed the “strong importance” of Jewish-Turkish ties.

The Obama administration has been endeavoring to repair ties between the one-time allies since May 2010, when Israeli commandos boarded the ship, which was attempting to break Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip. Passengers on the boat attacked the commandos during the raid, and nine people were killed in the ensuing melee. The raid sent already damaged Turkish-Israeli ties into a tailspin.

Netanyahu until now had resisted calls, including from some of his closest advisers, to apologize for the incident. Other factions in his last government strongly opposed an apology. Recent reports, however, had said that Netanyahu would reconsider once he had a new government in place — something he accomplished last weekend.

This week, Erdogan attempted to backtrack from his most recent anti-Israel outburst, telling a Danish newspaper that his equation last month of Zionism with anti-Semitism and crimes against humanity referred only to certain Israeli acts and not the Zionist movement per se. Netanyahu, in his statement, said he “expressed appreciation” to Erdogan for the clarification.

Relations between Israel and Turkey had turned sout after the 2009 Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip. In the statement Friday, Netanyahu said he told Erdogan “that Israel has already lifted several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods to all of the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and added that this will continue as long as the quiet is maintained.”

The statement concluded by saying that “The two leaders agreed to continue to work on improving the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”

Obama brokers Israel-Turkey rapprochement


Israel apologized to Turkey on Friday for killing nine Turkish citizens in a 2010 naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla and both feuding U.S. allies agreed to normalize relations in a surprise breakthrough announced by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The rapprochement could help regional coordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war and ease Israel's diplomatic isolation in the Middle East as it faces challenges posed by Iran's nuclear program.

In a statement released by the White House only minutes before Obama ended a visit to Israel, the president said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erodgan had spoken by telephone.

“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said.

The first conversation between the two leaders since 2011, when Netanyahu phoned to offer help after an earthquake struck Turkey, gave Obama a diplomatic triumph in a visit to Israel and the Palestinian Territories in which he offered no new plan to revive peace talks frozen for nearly three years.

The 30-minute call was made in a runway trailer at Tel Aviv airport, where Obama and Netanyahu huddled before the president boarded Air Force One for a flight to Jordan, U.S. officials said.

Israel bowed to a long-standing demand by Ankara, once a close strategic partner, to apologize formally for the deaths aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, which was boarded by Israeli marines who intercepted a flotilla challenging Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed an apology to the Turkish people for any error that may have led to the loss of life, and agreed to complete the agreement for compensation,” an official Israeli statement said.

Netanyahu and Erdogan “agreed to restore normalization between the two countries, including returning their ambassadors (to their posts),” the statement added.

A U.S. official said “Erdogan accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey.”

FRAYED TIES

Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report into the Mavi Marmara incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state.

Israel had previously balked at apologizing to the Turks, saying this would be tantamount to admitting moral culpability and would invite lawsuits against its troops.

Voicing until now only “regret” over the Mavi Marmara incident, Israel has offered to pay into what it called a “humanitarian fund” through which casualties and their relatives could be compensated.

A source in Netanyahu's office said opening a new chapter with Turkey “can be very, very important for the future, regarding what happens with Syria but not just what happens with Syria”.

Before the diplomatic break, Israeli pilots trained in Turkish skies, exercises widely seen as improving their capability to carry out long-range missions such as possible strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.

Additional reporting by Dan Williams, Crispian Balmer and Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Angus MacSwan

Turkey says Israel has relaxed restrictions on imports to Palestinian areas


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told his Turkish counterpart on Friday that Israel had “substantially” lifted restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into the Palestinian territories, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan's office said.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu … noted that Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into the Palestinian territories, including Gaza, and that this would continue as long as calm prevailed,” a statement said.

Reporting by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Pravin Char

Turkish Prime Minister


Kerry: Turkish PM’s Zionism comments ‘objectionable’


Secretary of State John Kerry said on Friday the United States found a comment by Turkey's prime minister, likening Zionism to crimes against humanity, “objectionable”, overshadowing their talks on the crisis in neighboring Syria.

Kerry, on his first trip to a Muslim nation since taking office, is meeting Turkish leaders for talks meant to focus on Syria's civil war and bilateral interests from energy security to counter-terrorism.

But the comment by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan at a U.N. meeting in Vienna this week, condemned by his Israeli counterpart, the White House and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, has clouded his trip.

“We not only disagree with it, we found it objectionable,” Kerry told a news conference with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, saying he raised the issue directly with Davutoglu and would do so with Erdogan.

“That said, Turkey and Israel are both vital allies of the United States and we want to see them work together in order to be able to go beyond the rhetoric and begin to take concrete steps to change this relationship,” Kerry added.

Washington needs all the allies it can get as it navigates the political currents of the Middle East, and sees Turkey as the key player in supporting Syria's opposition and planning for the era after President Bashar al-Assad.

But the collapse of Ankara's ties with Israel have undermined U.S. hopes that Turkey could play a role as a broker in the broader region.

Erdogan told the U.N. Alliance of Civilizations meeting in Vienna on Wednesday: “Just as with Zionism, anti-Semitism and fascism, it has become necessary to view Islamophobia as a crime against humanity.”

Erdogan's caustic rhetoric on Israel has in the past won applause from conservative supporters at home but raised increasing concern among Western allies.

Ties between Israel and mostly Muslim Turkey have been frosty since 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turks in fighting aboard a Palestinian aid ship that tried to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip.

“If Israel wants to hear positive statements from Turkey it needs to reconsider its attitude both towards us and towards the West Bank,” Davutoglu told the news conference.

Writing by Nick Tattersall; Editing by Michael Roddy

Seven Jewish lawmakers press Obama on Turkey


Seven Jewish House members urged President Obama to conduct an intensive review of the country’s relationship with Turkey.

“It appears that our long-standing ally in Ankara is drifting toward confrontation with our closest friends and allies,” said the letter sent Wednesday by the lawmakers, all Democrats.

The signers are U.S. Reps. Howard Berman (D-Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee; Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), the ranking Democrat on the foreign operations subcommittee of the Appropriations Committee; Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), members of the Foreign Relations Committee; Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee; Shelley Berkley (D-Nev.) and Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

“In response, the United States needs to undertake an urgent review of our relations with Turkey and our overall strategy in the Eastern Mediterranean,” the letter said.

The letter referred to Turkey’s expulsion of the Israeli ambassador after a United Nations investigation partially vindicated Israel in its May 2010 raid on a Turkish-flagged aid ship headed to the Gaza Strip—the raid resulted in a melee that killed nine Turks—as well as what it said were aggressive Turkish postures toward Cyprus and the European Union.

Separately, Engel and Berkley called for a suspension of sales of military equipment to Turkey.

“We urge our Congressional colleagues to join us in rejecting any attempt to supply weapons to a country that is threatening some of America’s closest allies and supporting terrorist groups like Hamas,” they said in a statement.

The Turkish charity that organized the May 2010 flotilla is believed to have ties with Hamas, the terrorist group that controls the Gaza Strip.

Turkey’s FM: Tension with Israel won’t change over aid


Diplomatic tension between Turkey and Israel will continue despite Israeli earthquake aid to the stricken country, Turkey’s foreign minister said.

Ahmet Davutoglu told the Turkish news service Today’s Zaman that “political conditions remain,” and Ankara will not change its position on Israel despite the assistance.

Relations between the former allies are nearly nonexistent now following an Israeli naval commando raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla ship Mavi Marmara last year that left nine Turkish nationals dead, including one dual Turkish-American citizen.

Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families. Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been deteriorating since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Israel on Wednesday at Turkey’s request sent portable housing units, as well as inflatable mattresses and blankets. There are plans to send more housing units.

More than 450 deaths have been confirmed in Sunday’s 7.3 temblor.

Rescuers battle to find Turkey quake survivors, save baby


Rescuers pulled a two-week-old baby girl alive from the arms of her mother buried under a collapsed building on Tuesday as a search continued for survivors from a quake in eastern Turkey that killed at least 366 people and left thousands homeless.

Hope of finding people alive under tons of rubble was fading with every passing hour as rescuers pulled out more bodies and thousands of residents slept for a second night in crowded tents or huddled around fires and in cars across a region rattled by aftershocks in Van province, near the Iranian border.

With victims accusing the central government of being slow in delivering aid to a region inhabited mostly by minority Kurds, Ankara said it was sending more tents and blankets.

“We have no tents, everybody is living outdoors. Van has collapsed psychologically, life has stopped. Tens of thousands are on the streets. Everybody is in panic,” Kemal Balci, a construction worker said as he awaited news on friends injured in the quake at a hospital in the city of Van.

“Aid has been arriving late. Van has been reduced to zero. We have no jobs, no bread, no water and there are nine members in my family. If the government doesn’t give a hand to Van it will be like Afghanistan. Van has been pushed back 100 years.”

The 7.2-magnitude quake, Turkey’s most powerful in a decade, is one more affliction for Kurds, the dominant ethnic group in impoverished southeast Turkey, where more than 40,000 people have been killed in a three-decade-long separatist insurgency.

On Monday, Turkish tanks and armored vehicles crossed into northern Iraq headed in the direction of a Kurdish militant camp as part of cross-border operations in the wake of an attack last week by Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) fighters that killed 24 Turkish soldiers.

Quake rescue efforts focused on Ercis, a town of 100,000 that was worst hit, and the provincial capital Van, which has a population of one million.

Emergency workers extracted the infant girl alive from the wreckage on Tuesday, two days after it was buried with its mother under an apartment block.

The mother was clutching the child to her chest when the were reached by rescuers, who set about rescuing the mother and a grandmother who were also still alive.

“We’re going to get them out soon,” a rescuer assured the other grandmother, whose eyes brimmed with tears of joy over the survival of her grandchild.

Elsewhere, exhausted workers used machinery, jackhammers, shovels, pick axes and bare hands to comb through rubble. Every so often, they would shout for silence and generators and diggers would stop, straining to hear voices under the wreckage. Seconds later the drone of the machinery would start again.

Officials said 12,000 more tents would reach Van on Tuesday after complaints that entire families were cramming into tents and television images showed desperate men pushing each other roughly to grab tents from the back of a Red Crescent truck.

The Turkish Red Crescent has said it was preparing temporary shelter for about 40,000 people, although there were no reliable figures for the homeless. Many residents spent the night outside fearing any return to their damaged homes.

Turkish authorities have been criticized for failing to ensure that some of the neediest, particularly in villages, received tents as night temperatures plummeted.

“Life has become hell. We are outside, the weather is cold. There are no tents,” said Emin Kayram, 53, sitting by a camp fire in Ercis after spending the night with his family of eight in a van parked nearby.

His nephew was trapped in the debris of a building behind him, where rescue workers had been digging through the night.

“He is 18, a student. He is still stuck in there. This is the third day but you can’t lose hope. We have to wait here.”

How fast Ankara manages to deliver aid and long-term relief to the survivors might have political consequences in a region plagued by poverty and the Kurdish insurgency, analysts said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who secured a third consecutive term with a strong majority at a June election, has pledged to push reforms in parliament and rewrite the constitution to address long-time Kurdish grievances in an effort to end violence.

“If we want to win the hearts of our brothers of Kurdish origin, we should act now. We should beat the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) with this approach, which is more effective than arms,” leading commentator Mehmet Ali Birand wrote.

Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Administration said on Tuesday the death toll had risen to 366, with 1,301 people injured. The overnight death toll stood at 279.

The death count was likely to rise further as many people were still missing and 2,262 buildings have collapsed.

“It was like judgment day,” said Mesut Ozan Yilmaz, 18, who survived for 32 hours under the rubble of a tea house where he had been passing time with friends.

Unhurt but lying on a hospital bed under a thick blanket, his face blackened by dust and dirt, Yilmaz gave a chilling account to CNN Turk of how he survived by diving under a table.

“The space we had was so narrow. People were fighting for more space to survive,” Yilmaz said. “I rested my head on a dead man’s foot. I know I would be dead now if I had let myself go psychologically.”

The government has received offers of aid from dozens of countries around the world, including from former ally Israel, but has so far accepted aid only from Bulgaria, Azerbaijan and Iran.

The center of Van resembled a ghost town with no lights in the streets or buildings. Hardly any people could be seen.

The sense of dislocation was even greater in Ercis. With no homes to go back to, thousands of people, mostly men, paced the streets, stopping to look at the destruction or whenever there was some commotion at a rescue site.

At one collapsed building on the main road through Ercis, exhausted rescue workers shouted at crowds of men pushing forward to catch a glimpse as efforts were made to free a woman’s corpse from the rubble.

“Get back. Are you not human? Show some respect. Do we not have any honor or pride?” one rescue worker yelled. Crowds formed at one demolished building where bystanders said a trapped boy had made contact by mobile phone.

As a rescue team dug at the rubble, one man screamed at the workers: “Where were you last night? I told you last night there were people here.”

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia, Daren Butler and Simon Cameron-Moore; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Turkey quake kills at least 279, hundreds missing [UPDATE]


[UPDATE: 10:43 a.m.]

Rescuers searched the rubble of collapsed buildings Monday for survivors and victims of a major earthquake that killed at least 279 people and injured more than 1,300 in mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey.

Rescue and relief efforts focused on the city of Van and the town of Ercis, 100 km (60 miles) to the north, but hundreds were also feared dead in remote villages of mud-brick houses after Sunday’s 7.2 magnitude quake, Turkey’s strongest in a decade.

Desperate survivors cried for help beneath heaps of smashed concrete and twisted metal, some using mobile phones to tell friends they were alive, as earth-moving machines and troops raced against time in Van and Ercis.

Thousands of people made homeless by the quake were forced to spend a second night outdoors in the hilly, windswept Van region, enduring near-freezing temperatures. Families huddled round open fires that glowed in the dark. Some stayed in tents put up on soccer pitches, living on handouts from aid agencies.

The U.N. disaster agency said almost 1,000 buildings had collapsed, many of them poorly built. A Red Crescent spokesman said the agency was preparing to provide refuge for as many as 40,000 people, though it was so far impossible to tell how many would need shelter.

Some residents of Van and outlying villages complained of a lack of government assistance, despite the dispatch of troops, mobile kitchens and up to 13,000 tents.

“We have to fit 37 people in one tent,” said Giyasettin Celen, a 29-year-old who lost three family members in Dogonu Koyu, a village beside Lake Van where he said 15 people died.

“Our lost ones were carried like animals, on top of each other, in a transport van. Our main source of income here is livestock breeding, but we don’t have anywhere to keep them. We will have to sell them now,” he said.

Throughout the day, rescue workers pulled people out alive.

“Be patient, be patient,” rescuers in Ercis told a whimpering boy pinned under a concrete slab with the lifeless hand of an adult, a wedding ring on one finger, visible just in front of his face.

A Reuters photographer saw a woman and her daughter being freed from beneath a concrete slab in the wreckage of a six-storey building.

“I’m here, I’m here,” the woman, named Fidan, cried out hoarsely. Talking to her regularly while working for more than two hours to find a way through, rescuers cut through the slab, first sighting the daughter’s foot, before freeing them.

In Van, an ancient city of one million on a lake ringed by snow-capped mountains, cranes shifted rubble from a collapsed six-storey apartment block where 70 people were feared trapped.

One woman, standing beside a wrecked four-storey building, told a rescue worker she had spoken to her friend on her mobile phone six hours after the quake trapped her in the wreckage.

“She’s my friend and she called me to say that she’s alive and she’s stuck in the rubble near the stairs of the building,” said her friend, a fellow teacher. “She told me she was wearing red pajamas,” she said, standing with distraught relatives begging the rescue workers to hurry.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan flew to Van to assess the scale of the disaster. It is a quake-prone area that is a hotbed of activity for Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) militants.

Erdogan said he feared for the fate of villages with houses made of mud brick, saying: “Almost all buildings in such villages are destroyed.”

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said the death toll had reached 279, with 1,300 injured, and more were unaccounted for.

The quake brought fresh torment to impoverished southeast Turkey, where PKK militants fighting a decades-long insurgency killed 24 Turkish troops south of Van last week.

The area it struck, near the border with Iran, is remote and mountainous, with long distances between villages and people who live off stock-raising, arable farming and trading.

The hardest-hit town was Ercis, a town of 100,000, where 55 buildings crumpled, including a student dormitory.

At one collapsed four-storey building, firemen from the major southeastern city of Diyarbakir were trying to reach four missing children. Aid workers carried two large black bags, one apparently containing a child’s body, to an ambulance. An old woman wrapped in a headscarf walked alongside sobbing.

A distressed man paced back and forth before running toward the rescue workers on top of the rubble. “That’s my nephew’s house,” he sobbed as workers tried to hold him back.

The Red Crescent has delivered 5,000 tents to Ercis alone and a tent city has been set up at Ercis stadium. But residents said tents were being given only to relatives of police and soldiers, a possible source of tension if confirmed.

“The villages have not received any help yet. Instead of making a show, politicians should be visiting them. The Turkish military says they sent soldiers, where are they?” said a municipality official in Van who did not want to be named.

Ibrahim Baydar, a 40-year-old tradesman from Van, accused the government in Ankara of holding back aid. “All the nylon tents are in the black market now. We cannot find any. People are queuing for them. No tents were given to us whatsoever.”

Rescue efforts were hampered by power outages after the quake toppled electricity lines to towns and villages.

More than 200 aftershocks have jolted the region since the quake, lasting around 25 seconds, struck at 1041 GMT Sunday.

“I just felt the whole earth moving and I was petrified. It went on for ages. And the noise, you could hear this loud, loud noise,” said Hakan Demirtas, 32, a builder who was working on a construction site in Van at the time.

“My house is ruined,” he said, sitting on a low wall after spending the night in the open. “I am still afraid, I’m in shock. I have no future, there is nothing I can do.”

The Red Crescent said about 100 experts had reached the earthquake zone to coordinate rescue and relief operations. Sniffer dogs had joined the quest for survivors.

Major geological fault lines cross Turkey, where small tremors occur almost daily. Two large quakes in 1999 killed more than 20,000 people in the northwest.

The quake had no impact on Turkish financial markets when they opened Monday.

In Van, construction worker Sulhattin Secen, 27, said he had at first mistaken the rumble of the quake for a car crash.

“Then the ground beneath me started moving up and down as if I was standing in water. May God help us. It’s like life has stopped. What are people going to do?”

Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Istanbul; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia, Simon Cameron-Moore and Daren Butler; Editing by Tim Pearce

Turkey rejects earthquake aid offers, including Israel’s


Turkey has rejected all international aid, including an Israeli offer, in the wake of a strong earthquake that collapsed buildings and left hundreds dead.

Sunday’s temblor, which measured 7.3 on the Richter scale and was centered in southeastern Turkey, was felt in central Tel Aviv, Haaretz reported. At least 239 people are confirmed dead, with many others reportedly trapped in collapsed buildings.

“The State of Israel shares in your sorrow following the earthquake that has claimed victims from among your people,” Israeli President Shimon Peres said Sunday in a call to Turkish President Abdullah Gul.  “I speak as a man, as a Jew and as an Israeli who remembers, and is well aware of, the depth of the historic relations between our two peoples and thus I send the condolences of the entire nation to the families of those who lost their lives.  At this difficult time, the State of Israel is ready to render any assistance that may be required anywhere in Turkey, at any time.”

Gul thanked Peres for the telephone call, the expression of condolences and the offer of assistance, according to the president’s office, and said that he hoped Turkish search and rescue could handle the emergency alone. Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey are now nearly nonexistent.

Israel’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Minister had been in contact with Turkish officials Sunday in order to offer assistance. An Israel Defense Forces search and rescue delegation is prepared to leave for Turkey if it is called upon, according to reports.

Diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey have deteriorated since nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed in May 2010 during an Israeli raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victims’ families.

Israel has offered its “regret” for the deaths, and has said that its naval commandos fired in self-defense. Relations had been going downhill since the 2008-09 Gaza war.

Turkey sent several firefighting airplanes to Israel last December to help battle the massive Carmel Forest fire.

Netanyahu offers quake aid to Turkey


Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Monday to offer condolences for those killed in a devastating earthquake and said the Jewish state was ready to help, officials of both countries said.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been frayed since Israeli commandos killed nine Turks during a raid on an aid flotilla bound for the Israeli-blockaded Gaza Strip in 2010.

Sources at Erdogan’s office said Netanyahu reminded Erdogan that Turkey sent fire-fighting planes in December last year to help Israel battle a brush fire that killed 41 people and said Israel was now ready to help Turkey.

At least 279 people were killed and more than 1,300 wounded when a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck mainly Kurdish southeast Turkey on Sunday.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, confirmed the call between the two men took place.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu expressed his condolences to the victims of the terrible earthquake and offered Israel’s help in dealing with the tragedy. The Turkish prime minister thanked him for his words and for his offer to help,” the official said.

It was too early to know if the exchange would lead to a rapprochement. Turkey has demanded Israel apologise and pay compensation for the killings and lift the blockade on Gaza as a condition to normalise ties with its former strategic ally.

Tensions between the two U.S. allies rose last month when Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel refused to apologise and said its marines acted in self-defence in clashes with pro-Palestinian activists on one of the vessels.

Israel has sent rescue teams to quake-prone Turkey in the past after earthquakes struck.

Turkey has received offers of assistance from countries as far as China and Pakistan but so far has accepted aid only from Iran and Azerbaijan.

Earlier on Monday, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc denied Turkey had declined an offer of aid from Israel.

“Our ties with Israel may not be at desired levels, but it’s out of the question to refuse humanitarian offers,” Arinc told a news conference.

“Turkey is thankful and respects all countries who offered help,” he said, but cautioned that “if aid from all countries arrived in Van it would be chaos”.

Additional reporting by Allyn Fisher-Ilan in Jerusalem; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Michael Roddy and Roger Atwood

Turkey IDs Israeli soldiers, commanders in ship’s raid


A list of 174 Israeli soldiers and commanders involved in the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara ship as it attempted to break the Gaza blockade, was given to Turkish prosecutors.

The list includes the soldiers in the Shayetet 13 commando unit, as well as their commanders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Defense Minister Ehud Barak.

The list was published Monday in the Turkish daily newspaper, Sabah.

It is unclear who drew up the list, which the newspaper said was culled from numerous sources, including Facebook, Sabah reported that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization drew up the list at the request of the state prosecutors office. But the Turkish news service Zaman reported that the state prosecutor denied asking for the list from national intelligence, saying that it received the names from the Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as the IHH, which sponsored the ship and has been identified by Israel as a terrorist organization.

Sabah reported that the İstanbul Chief Prosecutor’s Office had requested from Israeli authorities the full names and addresses of the military and government officials involved in the raid on the flotilla, but received no answer.

Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American dual citizen, were killed on May 31, 2010 during an Israeli naval commando raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the deaths and compensation to the victi

Turkish PM throws weight behind Arab cause


Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan threw Turkey’s weight behind a Palestinian bid for statehood and criticized Israel in an address to Arab states meeting in Cairo geared to buttress his image as a leader of a region in turmoil.

Erdogan is touring Arab states to capitalize on Arab regard for Turkey’s blend of Islam and democracy as a model for movements that have toppled several Arab autocrats, and on popular Arab support for his sparring with Israel.

His destinations on the tour—Egypt, Tunisia and Libya—have all witnessed the fall of entrenched leaders to grassroots revolts this year, challenging the old order across the region.

“Erdogan, Erdogan!” cheered a group of demonstrators as the Turkish prime minister left the headquarters of the Arab League in Cairo where he spoke. They were calling for change in Syria, whose military is trying to stamp out popular unrest.

Displaying a populist touch, Erdogan stopped and shook the demonstrators’ hands.

He told the Arab ministers that international recognition of a Palestinian state was “not an option but an obligation.”

“It’s time to raise the Palestinian flag at the United Nations. Let’s raise the Palestinian flag and let that flag be the symbol of peace and justice in the Middle East. Let’s contribute to securing well deserved peace and stability in the Middle East,” he said.

Palestinians will bid for full membership of the United Nations later this month, a move opposed by the United States which has a veto. Arab states endorsed it at the Cairo meeting.

“While Israel is trying to secure its legitimacy in our region on one hand, it is taking irresponsible steps which unsettle its legitimacy on the other,” said Erdogan, who is locked in a feud with the Jewish state, an erstwhile ally.

Arab League Secretary-General Nabil Elaraby introduced the Turkish prime minister saying: “All the Arab peoples appreciate what you are doing. We consider that there is a strong friendly state who is always standing on the side of justice.”

Outside the League, Syrian protester Samer Zaher, 30, said: “Erdogan has turned into an Arab hero … We have not found a leader as powerful as him addressing (Syrian President Bashar al-Assad) and asking him to quit.”

Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador last week in a row over an Israeli raid last year that killed nine Turks on a flotilla bound for Gaza, a Palestinian enclave controlled by the Islamist group Hamas and under blockade by Israel.

Erdogan told leading pan-Arab broadcaster Al Jazeera this month that the incident was a “cause for war” but said Turkey acted with “patience,” according to a transcript.

While winning over ordinary Arabs, particularly because of non-Arab Turkey’s tough line toward Israel, Erdogan’s growing popularity and clout could be a headache for more cautious Arab leaders who could see their own influence overshadowed.

“Turkey wants to play a regional role, especially when Egypt is busy with the revolution. Turkey thinks it’s best placed to play this leadership role,” said Adel Soliman, head of Cairo’s International Center for Future and Strategic Studies.

Egypt has traditionally seen itself as the leading diplomatic player in the Arab region. But its position has been eroded by wealthy Gulf countries, such as Qatar, and lately overshadowed by Turkey, with its fast expanding economy.

Erdogan met Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, who heads Egypt’s military council which took over after Hosni Mubarak was ousted by mass street demonstrations in February.

Egypt has also been embroiled in a dispute with Israel after Israel shot dead five Egyptian border guards in repelling cross-border raiders it said were Palestinian militants.

But Egypt’s generals have faced popular criticism for not taking a firmer line. Cairo said it would expel Israel’s ambassador but did not follow through with threat.

Protesters attacked Israel’s embassy in Cairo last week, prompting the ambassador to fly home and an embarrassed Egyptian government to affirm to Washington, its major aid donor, that it remained committed to a 1979 peace treaty with Israel.

Egypt has received billions of dollars in U.S. military and other aid since making peace with the Jewish state, so the military council faces a difficult balancing act when responding to public calls for a more assertive policy toward Israel.

Erdogan was cheered by a crowd when he arrived in Cairo and met by Egyptian Prime Minister Essam Sharaf. Many appeared to be Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, who hail him for his success in bringing Islamists into mainstream Turkish politics.

“Erdogan, Erdogan—a big welcome from the Brothers!” one banner said. “Hero Erdogan” was written on a photo of him.

“We need to preserve our relations with Turkey and all the countries that want to help the Arab world and take advantage of them to create a stronger political front to enhance the Arab states’ position against Israel,” said Mohammed Adel of the April 6 movement which helped lead the revolt to oust Mubarak.

Erdogan will also deliver a speech in Cairo outlining his Middle East vision. President Barack Obama also chose Cairo to address the Muslim world in 2009.

Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia in Istanbul, Jon Burch in Ankara, Ori Lewis in Jerusalem and Dan Williams in Tel Aviv; Writing by Andrew Hammond and Edmund Blair; Editing by Mark Heinrich

Turkish PM saw Gaza raid as “grounds for war”


Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan saw “grounds for war” with Israel last year after a deadly raid on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza, according to a transcript of a recent interview.

State news agency Anatolia released late on Sunday what it said was an original Turkish-language transcript of an interview Erdogan gave to Al Jazeera television last week. It included elements not broadcast as well as original wording for sensitive comments that had been transmitted only in Arabic translation.

Among previously unpublished elements, Erdogan said Israel’s deadly raid last year on a Turkish ship headed for Gaza would have justified going to war: “The attack that took place in international waters did not comply with any international law. In fact, it was grounds for war. However, befitting Turkey’s greatness, we decided to act with patience,” he said.

The transcript in Turkish from Anatolian, apparently provided by Erdogan’s office, also gave the following account of the prime minister’s response to a question on what Turkey would do to ensure free passage for its ships in the Mediterranean.

“Right now, without a doubt, the primary duty of Turkish navy ships is to protect its own ships,” Erdogan said.

“This is the first step. And we have humanitarian aid that we want to carry there. This humanitarian aid will not be attacked any more, as it was the case with Mavi Marmara.”

Turkey has downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and halted defense-related trade after the Jewish state’s confirmation last week that it would not apologize for the raid on the Mavi Marmara in May 2010 in which nine Turks were killed.

Turkey and Israel had tried to mend fences before the publication of a U.N. report two weeks ago, which deemed the blockade of the Gaza Strip a legal means to stem the flow of arms to Palestinians.

Israel has said it will continue the blockade and that it wants to ease tensions with its former ally .

The prospect of a showdown at sea with Turkey, a NATO power and fellow ally of the United States, rattled Israelis already on edge over political upheaval in the Arab world and Iran’s nuclear program. Washington has appealed for restraint.

Erdogan , seeking to expand Turkey’s regional influence, will travel to Cairo on Monday as part of a tour of three Arab countries likely to be scrutinised by Israel, whose once warm ties with both Muslim states have been shaken.

Reporting by Jon Burch; Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Alastair Macdonald

Erdogan: Turkish warships will escort aid vessels to Gaza


Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year’s Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.

Raising the stakes in Turkey’s row with Israel over its refusal to apologize for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.

“Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.

“From now on, we will not let these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said.

Referring to Erdogan’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “This is a statement well-worth not commenting on.”

Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close U.S. allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.

Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said earlier on Thursday that Israel and Turkey will eventually mend fences rather than become foes, describing their unprecedented dispute over Gaza as “spilled milk.”

Noting that an inquiry commissioned by United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon had vindicated the blockade, Barak predicted that wider Middle East upheaval would help bring Israel back together with its Muslim ex-ally.

“Ultimately this wave will pass. We recognize reality. They recognize reality,” Barak told Israel Radio. “We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region … I am certain that we can overcome these (disagreements).”

But Erdogan appeared to raise the heat, saying NATO member Turkey has taken steps to patrol the Mediterranean, and vowed to stop the Jewish state from exploiting natural resources in the area.

“You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean,” Erdogan said, apparently in reference to Israeli plans to exploit offshore gas reserves found in areas that are also claimed by Lebanon.

“You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean,” he said.

Turkey says oil deals granted by the Greek Cypriot government, which represents the island in the European Union, are illegal as the borders of Cyprus remain undetermined while Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots pursue reunification talks.

Turkey’s plan to flex its naval muscles may fuel Western unease about Turkey’s reliability as a NATO partner and its penchant for actions designed to court popularity in the Muslim world.

Asked whether Israel might yet say sorry for the seizure of the Turkish vessel, Barak said: “Look, it’s spilled milk. It’s not important right now.”

In addition to an apology, NATO-member Turkey has demanded that Israel end the Gaza blockade. Israel says the closure is needed to keep arms from reaching Palestinian guerrillas by sea.

“A normalization or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn’t be expected unless they apologize, pay a compensation and lift an embargo on Gaza,” Erdogan said on Thursday.

Reporting by Omar Fahmy; Aditional reporting Dan Williams and Maayan Lubell in Jerusalem and Ibon Villelabeitia in Ankara; Writing by Sami Aboudi; Editing by Karolina Tagaris

Turkey suspends defense, trade ties with Israel


Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country has suspended defense industry ties with Israel and halted trade pending a decision on permanently suspending all trade.

“Trade ties, military ties, regarding defense industry ties, we are completely suspending them. This process will be followed by different measures,” Erdogan said Tuesday, according to news agencies.

Erdogan also said that Turkish Navy ships will have a heightened presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Israeli diplomats who have not yet left Turkey have until Wednesday to do so, the prime minister said. Israel’s ambassador to Turkey had finished his term and had planned to return to Israel. No replacement had been named.

Erdogan also said that he may visit the Gaza Strip through Egypt after a visit to Cairo later this month, according to Reuters. 

Many of the sanctions already had been announced by Turkey’s foreign minister on Sept. 2, the day that the United Nations released the Palmer report, an investigation into Israel’s May 2010 boarding of the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara in which nine Turkish nationals were killed. The report found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal but that Israeli commandos used excessive force in confronting the passengers.

Israel has refused to apologize for the raid but has expressed “regret” for the deaths.

“Trade ties, military ties, regarding defense industry ties, we are completely suspending them. This process will be followed by different measures,” Erdogan said Tuesday, according to news agencies.

Erdogan also said that Turkish Navy ships will have a heightened presence in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Israeli diplomats who have not yet left Turkey have until Wednesday to do so, the prime minister said. Israel’s ambassador to Turkey had finished his term and had planned to return to Israel. No replacement had been named.

Erdogan also said that he may visit the Gaza Strip through Egypt after a visit to Cairo later this month, according to Reuters. 

Many of the sanctions already had been announced by Turkey’s foreign minister on Sept. 2, the day that the United Nations released the Palmer report, an investigation into Israel’s May 2010 boarding of the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara in which nine Turkish nationals were killed. The report found that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza is legal but that Israeli commandos used excessive force in confronting the passengers.

Israel has refused to apologize for the raid but has expressed “regret” for the deaths.

Obama urges Turkey’s Erdogan to improve Israel relations


President Obama urged Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to improve relations with Israel in the face of regional turmoil.

“The President expressed his hope to Prime Minister Erdogan that Turkey and Israel will find opportunities to improve their relations in the interest of regional stability,” said an April 25 White House statement describing Obama’s call with Erdogan.

Obama and Erdogan discussed current unrest in Libya and Syria.

Israel and Turkey have had parlous relations since Israeli forces killed nine Turks, including one Turkish-American dual citizen, during a raid last year on a flotilla aiming to breach Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel and Turkey are the two closest U.S. allies in the region.