Israel to pay Turkey $20 million in compensation after six-year rift


Turkish lawmakers on Wednesday submitted to parliament a settlement deal with Israel that would see Israel pay Ankara $20 million within 25 days in return for Turkey dropping outstanding legal claims, ending a six-year rift.

Relations between the two countries crumbled after Israeli marines stormed a Turkish ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turks on board.

Israel had already offered its apologies for the raid. Both countries are to appoint ambassadors, and Turkey is to pass legislation indemnifying Israeli soldiers as part of an agreement partly driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals.

Turkish ship with Gaza-bound aid docks at Ashdod, first since reconciliation


A Turkish ship packed with aid for the Gaza Strip arrived in Israel, the first since Turkey and Israel reached a reconciliation deal that allows such transfers.

The cargo ship docking at Ashdod, just north of Gaza, on Sunday afternoon was bearing 10,000 tons of humanitarian equipment and food, Haaretz reported.

Israel and Turkey last month agreed to fully reestablish ties ruptured by Israel’s raid on a Turkish-flagged aid flotilla in 2010. Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish nationals in violent encounters during the raid on the Mavi Marmara, one of the ships attempting to breach a blockade on the strip imposed by Israel after the 2009 Gaza war with Hamas.

As part of the deal, Israel is keeping the blockade in place but is easing the transfer of Turkish aid to the strip.

Israel also will pay $20 million in compensation to the families of the Turkish nationals. Turkey will press Hamas to return the bodies of two Israeli soldiers slain during wars with Hamas and two Israeli citizens still being held in the strip.

The families of the slain soldiers and their supporters protested the arrival of the ship, Haaretz reported.

Turkey snubs possible energy deals with Israel after Gaza offensive


Turkey is unlikely to sign any energy deals with Israel for the construction of a gas pipeline to Turkey because of a deepening political rift over Israel's Gaza offensive, Turkish Energy Minister Taner Yildiz said on Tuesday.

Ties were severely damaged following a deadly raid by Israeli commandoes on a Turkish yacht carrying pro-Palestinian activists defying a Gaza blockade in 2010. But Israeli firms had more recently held fruitful talks with Turkish private companies and energy officials as part of a tentative rapproachment.

However, Israel's Gaza offensive in July that killed more than 2,000 people undermined those efforts and infuriated President Tayyip Erdogan, who likened Israel's actions to those of Hitler.

Israel has turned into a potential gas exporter overnight with the discovery of Tamar and Leviathan, two of the largest gas finds in the past decade. Tamar began production in March 2013, and its partners have already signed a number of lucrative deals in Israel.

Talks between the Leviathan consortium and Turkish counterparts have seen slow progress over the last year. A political solution has always been the condition for an ultimate deal.

“For energy projects to proceed, the human tragedy in Gaza will have to be stopped and Israel will have to instate a permanent peace there with all elements,” Minister Yildiz told reporters in Ankara.

“It is out of question to proceed on any energy project unless a permanent peace is established, with contribution from all sides and with necessary conditions. A human tragedy unfolded (in Gaza), it is all too easily forgotten.”

Turkey was once Israel's closest strategic ally in the region. But Erdogan has been a strident critic of Israel's policy on the Palestinians and has been highly critical of the Jewish state since the Gaza hostilities erupted.

Pro-Palestinian sentiment runs high in mostly Sunni Muslim Turkey and protestors have repeatedly taken to the streets in July to demonstrate against Israel's offensive, prompting Israel to reduce diplomatic presence in Turkey.

The talks between Israel and Turkey have focused on building a 10 billion cubic meter (bcm) sub-sea pipeline at an expected cost of $2.2 billion, giving Israel access to a major emerging market and one of Europe's biggest power markets by 2023.

Despite the opposition in political and business circles in Turkey, Israeli businessmen are still holding out hope that a deal may be struck in time.

Yitzhak Tshuva, the billionaire owner of Delek Group, the main partner in Leviathan, told Reuters this week that he remained optimistic about a deal being struck with Turkey once the current political chill passes.

“I believe, yes, and I want (an agreement),” he said.

Additional reporting by Tova Cohen in Tel Aviv; Writing by Humeyra Pamuk, editing by Jonny Hogg and Ralph Boulton

Turkish activists say new flotilla to challenge Israeli blockade of Gaza


A Turkish aid group said on Monday it would again send ships to challenge the Israeli blockade of Gaza, four years after Israeli commandos stormed its flotilla bound for the Palestinian territory and killed 10 Turks.

The plan looked set to throw a fresh obstacle in the way of efforts to rebuild shattered diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel, just as Ankara launches an “air corridor” carrying wounded Palestinians to Turkey and aid to Gaza.

Three Palestinian women and a male youth were flown from Tel Aviv to Ankara overnight for medical treatment after Turkey held talks on the matter with Israel, the first step of Ankara's bid to evacuate possibly thousands from the Gaza Strip.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu revealed details of the aid initiative last week after a month of bloodshed that has killed 1,910 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.

But any goodwill generated by the move could be jeopardized by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) announcement that a coalition of pro-Palestinian activists from 12 countries had decided to launch a convoy “in the shadow of the latest Israeli aggression on Gaza”.

“The Freedom Flotilla Coalition affirmed that, as most governments are complicit, the responsibility falls on civil society to challenge the Israeli blockade on Gaza,” it said in a statement after the group met in Istanbul at the weekend.

An IHH spokeswoman did not elaborate. The group will hold a news conference on Tuesday, she said.

Nine Turks died in May 2010 in international waters after Israeli soldiers raided their vessel, the Mavi Marmara, leading a flotilla to break Israel's seven-year blockade of Gaza. A 10th Turkish activist died in May from wounds suffered in the attack.

Formerly allies, Turkey's relationship with Israel had been tense since late 2008 over a previous Israeli military operation against Islamist militants dominating Gaza.

PRO-PALESTINIAN SENTIMENT

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, who on Sunday was elected president, has been among the most vocal critics of Israel's conflict with the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza.

In campaigning ahead of the election, Erdogan had likened Israel's actions in Gaza to those of Hitler and warned it would “drown in the blood it sheds”.

Israel, which denounced Erdogan's comments, says its offensive is intended to stop rocket fire from Gaza and to destroy tunnels some of which have been used by gunmen to infiltrate Israel.

Eager to re-establish itself as a powerhouse in a rapidly changing Middle East, Turkey is already sheltering more than a million refugees from the war in Syria and is playing a major role in the development of Iraqi Kurdistan.

Despite crumbling relations with Israel, it also hopes through its ties with the Palestinian authorities to play a part in brokering a long-term settlement in the Gaza Strip.

Pro-Palestinian sentiment runs high in mostly Sunni Muslim Turkey, and protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate against Israel's offensive in Gaza.

The four wounded Palestinians arrived in Turkey on Monday a day after Israel and the Palestinians agreed a fresh 72-hour ceasefire.

Osama Al-Najar, spokesman of the health ministry in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank, said 60 more wounded people would be flown to Turkey on Monday. He said the Palestinian Authority had helped organize their transfer from Gaza to Israel.

Davutoglu said Turkey planned to bring in some 200 wounded in the first stage of its plan, while Health Minister Mehmet Muezzinoglu said Ankara was ready to send a 60-strong medical team to establish a field hospital in the region if permission is granted.

Turkey's state disaster and emergency authority was to send an initial aid cargo of 3,500 food parcels by plane from Ankara to Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport on Monday evening as part of the air corridor.

European anti-Semitism exploding: It’s not just about Hamas


Conventional wisdom would have us believe that the current explosion of anti-Semitism across Europe is caused by the war with Hamas in Gaza. But it’s not that simple. The riots on the streets of Paris, the vicious anti-Jewish graffiti defacing the ancient streets of Rome, the unanswered threats to Jews living in the shadow of Amsterdam’s Anne Frank House, all point to a much deeper malaise.

To be sure, Hamas has done more than its share to stoke the flames of genocidal hate. Anti-Semitism is the one battlefield in the asymmetrical war against the Jews they know they have a chance to win. Their self-generated “martyrs on demand” fill 24-hour news cycles and infect social media platforms, and the searing visuals of dead babies are more than enough to send young revenge-seeking Arabs and Muslims into Europe’s streets to attack The Enemy.

And the “enemy” is? The Jewish people. Jews in their synagogues, their community centers, their kosher butcher shops, their religious gatherings.

But the virulent anti-Jew narrative was well underway before the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas members on the West Bank and the unending rocket and missile attacks on Israel’s heartland led to the current war in Gaza.

Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been a key player in supercharging anti-Jewish sentiment. Erdogan co-opted former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s game plan by bullying Israel, in word and (often) in deed, to win over the Arab and Muslim streets. His hate recently reached its apex by libeling the Jewish state’s counterattack against Hamas as “barbarism that surpasses Hitler.”

Turkey, a country that for half a millennium earned a record of tolerance for its Jews, now boasts members of parliament who participate in violent demonstrations against the Israeli embassy and a leading singer who proudly tweets, “May God Bless Hitler” and “It will be again Muslims who will bring an end of those Jews, it is near, near.”

The damage done by Erdogan and company not only endangers Turkish Jewry, it has helped further validate extreme anti-Jewish invective by Turkish imams in Germany and the Netherlands.

Last year, Dutch social worker Mehmet Sahin found his life turned upside down after he had the audacity to confront anti-Semitic Dutch Muslim youth on national TV. That Friday, the imam in the mosque he and his wife attended publicly accused Sahin of “being a Jew,” forcing him and his young family to flee into a witness protection program.

“Rabbi,” Sahin told me recently, “you don’t understand. It was never like this before, but today, ‘Jew’ has become a dirty word in our community.”

In the United Kingdom, where Israel has been pounded for decades by media and cultural icons, the current situation includes attacks against rabbis and synagogues and racist death and firebomb threats. In Manchester, The Jewish Chronicle reported that a shop selling Israeli cosmetics reported phone calls threatening to burn down the shop and beat up or kill staff.

One caller threatened: “You would be wiped out right now … if [your owner] puts more videos on Facebook I will f*** him up … I will kill you with it.”

Another threatens, “I will burn your shop down,” and posted on the shop owner’s Facebook page was, “I hope he burns in hell like the rest of the Jews.”

Without question, however, anti-Jewish violence was at its worst in France, where only the presence of gendarmes averted a disaster in Paris, as rioters almost breached synagogues and their worshippers. For days, Jewish neighborhoods were subject to violence, looting and intimidation. In Toulouse, not even the memory of Jewish kids murdered in the schoolyard in 2012 spared the already traumatized community — with the local JCC firebombed.

But let us remember that, well before this conflagration, many French Jews, alarmed by the establishment’s unwillingness or inability to protect them, had already packed their bags and left.

And there are other threats looming. Last month, I met with French President Francois Hollande at the Elysee Palace as he confirmed to a Simon Wiesenthal Center delegation that 1,000 French citizens had been active in Syria. “Thirty-one have died, and some others suffered trauma, but the majority have returned to France and melted into the population,” Hollande confirmed, adding that many were armed and that authorities had no idea where the ticking human time bombs were. He didn’t have to remind us that both the Toulouse murderer and the terrorist who killed four people at the Jewish Museum in Brussels were both French Muslims, trained by jihadist terrorists overseas.

The threat to Jewish continuity in Europe goes beyond angry Muslims. It goes to the heart of Europe’s elite. Why did the mayor of The Hague refuse to order the arrest of Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) supporters who threatened Jews in the center of the city on the very day that ISIS was tweeting photos of its beheaded prisoners in Iraq? Where are the Dutch people in Amsterdam to reassure their Jewish neighbors that they don’t have to remove the mezuzahs from their doorposts for fear of attack? Why have German officials failed to take action against an imam in Berlin who called for the murder of all Jews from his pulpit? Where is the outrage when Green Party members join far-right and Muslim extremists amid chants of “Gas the Jews” on the streets of Germany? Where is Swedish civil society to finally demand of elected officials and police that Jewish citizens of Malmo be fully protected from constant anti-Semitic harassment? Who in Belgium will call out the doctor who refused to treat a Jewish patient because of Israel’s alleged misdeeds in Gaza? When will the churches, non-governmental organizations and cultural elite of Europe — from the UK to Spain to Norway — who never miss an opportunity to stand in silent tribute to 6 million dead Jews — finally have the decency to acknowledge that 6 million live Jews have the rights to pursue their destiny in the democratic Jewish State of Israel?

The canary-in-the-coal-mine analogy is often invoked to describe the plight of Europe’s Jews. But in 2014, unlike 1938, Jews can leave. The Jew is no longer the clueless canary, but European values themselves are in real danger. We Jews will survive; we have Israel and we have each other. But if current trends continue, Europe will wake up one morning to find itself, bereft of its Jews, surrendering, yet again, to the forces of evil.


Rabbi Abraham Cooper is associate dean of the Simon Wiesenthal Center.

Israeli concerns about Turkey and Qatar fuel dispute with Kerry


Behind the feud between John Kerry and Israel over the secretary of state’s efforts to broker a Gaza cease-fire is a larger tension concerning the role of Turkey and Qatar in Palestinian affairs.

Israeli officials rejected the proposal for a cease-fire advanced by Kerry in part because of what they see as the outsize influence on his diplomatic efforts of these two regional powers with agendas increasingly seen as inimical to Israeli interests. While both countries are traditional U.S. allies, they are also supportive of Hamas.

“Qatar, financially and politically, diplomatically and through Al Jazeera, is supporting a terrorist group,” an Israeli official told JTA. “Instead of contributing to the development of the area, they are contributing to terror in the region.”

Israeli officials point to the anti-Israel rhetoric of Turkey’s Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which has reached new heights during the current conflict, with his suggestion that Israel is worse than the Nazis.

Israel prefers to have Egypt as the main interlocutor because the country’s current military-backed government has a deep antipathy toward the Islamist Hamas movement.

Israel had previously embraced an Egyptian cease-fire proposal that was rejected by Hamas, which saw its terms as decidedly unfriendly.

Tamara Cofman Wittes, a deputy assistant secretary of state for the Middle East in Obama’s first term, said that Turkey and Qatar are necessary interlocutors because Hamas needs credible representatives of its interests in the negotiating process and because the two countries are not tempted to sabotage cease-fire efforts.

“I understand why Israel and Egypt are uncomfortable seeing regional actors friendly to Hamas involved in these talks. If they are not involved, they could spoil a cease-fire,” said Wittes, who is now the director of the Brookings Institution’s Center for Middle East Policy. “You have to get them engaged so they have reason not to act in an unconstructive manner.”

Tensions between Israel and the Obama administration over Kerry’s cease-fire efforts escalated over the weekend.

In comments to the Israeli press by unnamed Israeli officials, Kerry was depicted as a hapless bumbler who, however unwittingly, seemed to be negotiating on behalf of Hamas.

U.S. officials have told Israeli and U.S. media that they are offended by the Israeli backlash.

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League, called on Israeli leaders to tone down the attacks on Kerry, saying such broadsides undermined Israel’s ability to face down its true enemy, Hamas.

“I understand there are disagreements between the United States and Israel, and maybe the secretary of state and Israel,” he said. “But those disagreements do not justify the ugly name calling. It undermines the relationship of the only true ally Israel has. In times of disagreement, one needs to embrace our friends.”

The exact nature of Kerry’s cease-fire proposal and how it came to be rejected by Israel’s Security Cabinet is not clear. But it is clear that the Security Cabinet’s eight ministers believed that it was tilted toward Hamas.

In a briefing for Israeli reporters, a senior American official is said to have argued that the document the Cabinet reviewed was simply one including the latest ideas for consideration and not a final draft.

Israeli officials, speaking anonymously to the Israeli media, have said they understood it as a final draft and that, in any case, even being asked to consider such a document was deeply unsettling.

Israelis say they were offended by the document’s detailed emphasis on what would be seen as wins for Hamas: Talks on opening borders and transfer of emergency funds to pay the salaries of employees in Gaza who had worked for the Hamas-led government and now are supposed to be incorporated into the Palestinian Authority under the recent Palestinian unity agreement.

Israel’s concerns, including the removal of rockets and missiles from Gaza and the destruction of a tunnel network that reaches inside Israel, were confined in the document to three words: “address security issues.”

There were also concerns, shared by Egypt, the Palestinian Authority and Western European countries, that the proposal would strengthen Hamas at the expense of the P.A.

On Sunday night, President Obama called for an “immediate, unconditional humanitarian ceasefire” in a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a White House readout describing the phone call.

The readout nodded to Israeli concerns by reaffirming U.S. support for Egypt’s cease-fire efforts, while also stressing that Obama’s cease-fire call was building on Kerry’s efforts.

The readout also emphasized the importance of addressing Gaza’s economic plight, something that Hamas has made into a key precondition for a cease-fire.

“The President underscored the enduring importance of ensuring Israel’s security, protecting civilians, alleviating Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, and enacting a sustainable ceasefire that both allows Palestinians in Gaza to lead normal lives and addresses Gaza’s long-term development and economic needs, while strengthening the Palestinian Authority,” the readout said. “The President stressed the U.S. view that, ultimately, any lasting solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must ensure the disarmament of terrorist groups and the demilitarization of Gaza.”

 

Israel cuts diplomatic presence in Turkey amid protests


Israel said on Friday it was reducing its diplomatic presence in Turkey after protesters angered by its ground offensive into Gaza pelted its consulate in Istanbul with stones and draped Palestinian flags on the ambassador's residence in Ankara.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of “incitement”, saying it was ordering the return of diplomats' families and trimming staffing to a minimum.

Erdogan had accused the Jewish state on Wednesday of terrorising the region and likened an Israeli MP and member of the governing coalition to Hitler. On Friday he said there would be no improvement in relations between the two countries while he or his administration remained in charge.

“(Israel) has always been oppressive, and continues to oppress. Hence, as Turkey, I cannot think of positive developments with Israel as long as I hold this duty,” Erdogan told reporters in Istanbul.

He also criticised the West and the Muslim world for what he said was their silence in the face of “inhumane attacks”.

“Westerners may say I am stirring up tensions, but I have the mission of winning the consent of people and God.”

Israel stepped up its land offensive in the Gaza Strip with artillery, tanks and gunboats on Friday after Islamist militants there rejected a proposed truce and kept firing rockets into Israeli territory. Israel warned it could “significantly widen” an operation that Palestinian officials said had killed at least 260 people in 10 days, most of them civilians. [ID:nL6N0PT00D]

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas met Turkish President Abdullah Gul in Istanbul and said that Palestinian authorities were working with the international community and “brotherly Muslim countries” towards an immediate ceasefire.

Early on Friday, Turkish riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters outside the Israeli mission in Istanbul, but did not intervene in Ankara, where windows of the ambassador's residence were smashed, local media reported.

3,000 PROTESTERS

“Die out murderer Jew” had been scrawled on the wall across from the consulate in Istanbul.

“Israel strongly protests the blatant breach of diplomatic regulations … which were grossly violated by the Turkish authorities and security services during the demonstrations,” a statement from the Israeli Foreign Ministry said.

Around 3,000 people poured onto the streets of Istanbul after Friday prayers, chanting anti-Israel slogans and waving Palestinian flags, while passing cars honked in support.

“These protests will go on until all Israeli embassies are closed. I will attend all protests if I have to. I can't even begin to express my anger at the massacre in Gaza,” one woman, who was pushing her baby in a pram, told Reuters.

There were also smaller demonstrations in Ankara and the eastern city of Diyabakir, but no repeat of earlier violence.

NATO member Turkey was once Israel's closest ally in the region. But Erdogan has been a strident critic of its treatment of the Palestinians, and has issued a series of broadsides against the Jewish state since the Gaza hostilities erupted.

Anti-Israeli sentiment runs high in Turkey, particularly among Erdogan's largely conservative Sunni Muslim voter base, who he hopes will hand him victory in Turkey's first direct presidential election next month.

While bilateral trade remains largely unaffected, Israel's diplomatic presence in Turkey had already been downgraded.

Relations reached a nadir in 2010, when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara sailing as part of a flotilla challenging the Jewish state's naval blockade of Gaza. Ten people were killed.

Efforts to mend fences picked up after Netanyahu last year apologised for the raid and pledged to pay compensation as part of a U.S.-brokered rapprochement. But progress later stalled.

International court to look into Israel’s 2010 Gaza flotilla raid


The International Criminal Court prosecutor said she would open a preliminary examination into the 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla, which left nine Turkish activists dead.

The prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Tuesday that she was obliged to open a preliminary examination following a referral from the Indian Ocean island nation of Comoros, where one of the vessels that were raided was registered, Reuters reported.

Few preliminary examinations ever lead to a full investigation, let alone a trial. Activists have repeatedly attempted to involve the court in The Hague in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but it has so far declined to investigate events in the Palestinian territories.

The raid, in which Israeli special forces rappelled down onto the ships of activists who were seeking to break an Israeli blockade of Hamas in Gaza, caused a breakdown in relations between Turkey and Israel.

“My office will be conducting a preliminary examination in order to establish whether the criteria for opening an investigation are met,” Bensouda said.

The referral from the Comoros was relayed to the ICC by a Turkish law firm, Elmadag, according to Reuters.

The United States has been promoting a reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, two of its allies. Since then, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has apologized to Turkey for “any error that may have led to loss of life” and talks have begun on compensation.

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.

Turkey, Israel reconciliation far from fact


Just before President Barack Obama boarded Air Force One to leave Israel on a windy Friday afternoon last month, he made a dramatic announcement. Flanked by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Obama announced that Israel had apologized to Turkey for the deaths of nine Turkish citizens aboard a flotilla trying to break Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and that the two countries would resume ties soon.

But since then, nothing has happened. An Israeli delegation was supposed to visit Ankara this week to discuss the issue of compensation, an issue Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has drawn as a deal-breaker for rapprochement. Israeli press reports said that Israel was offering $100,000 for each of those killed, while Turkey was demanding $1 million. Turkey’s Vice President said the amount has yet to be determined.

“The Israeli delegation was due to leave on Thursday for talks but we received a message from the Turks they want to delay that to the 22nd and of course we complied,” a senior Israeli official involved in the issue told The Media Line on condition of anonymity. “We will be discussing all the issues raised in the phone conversation (between Prime Ministers Erdogan and Netanyahu), normalization of relations, and the exchange of ambassadors. We are talking about a process of improving relations with Turkey.”

In Turkey, analysts said the Israeli apology came as a welcome surprise.

“It is being seen as a victory here,” Barcin Yinanc, columnist and op-ed editor of Hurriyet Daily News told The Media Line. “The government took a principled stand and got even more than they had asked for.”

But she said that major differences between Israel and Turkey remain over the Palestinian issue.

“The Turks believe that Israel’s policy is poisonous to the Middle East and is not sustainable,” she said.

From Israel’s side, some said that Netanyahu, under pressure from Obama, had caved-in by apologizing. They said the Israeli soldiers only used force once they were attacked, and that the apology and compensation is a bad precedent for the future.

But others, like former Israeli ambassador Gabby Levy, said Israel should have apologized long ago. He also said repairing ties will not happen immediately.

“It should have been done long before. But at the same time the Israeli government should approach it carefully and shouldn’t raise too high expectation for a speedy process of reconciliation,” Levy told The Media Line. “It is going to take some time. We will never be able to get back to the level of warm relations we had previously.”

Levy said that Turkey had previously served as an intermediary for negotiations between Israel and Syria, but he did not think a similar role would be possible in the near future.

Until the flotilla incident, Israel and Turkey had agreements for military cooperation worth billions of dollars. Israeli defense companies, for example, modernized Turkish Air Force F-4 Phantoms and F-5 jets in a deal worth $900 million.

Turkey was also a popular tourist destination for Israelis, who do not need visas to enter. In 2008, some 560,000 Israelis visited Turkey, according to Israeli tourism officials. Those numbers declined sharply after the flotilla incident, and Israeli tourists turned to Greece, Cyprus, Bulgaria and Croatia.

Israeli tourism professionals doubt that waves of Israelis will return to Turkey, at least in the near future.

“The resorts in Turkey are beautiful and the people on the Turkish coast of Antalya are friendly,” Mark Feldman, the owner of Ziontours in Jerusalem, told The Media Line. “But Israelis are still hesitant, and the prices have gone up significantly. A few years ago we could offer packages for $99 – now summer packages are going for $599, the same as to Greece.”

Yet, Turkey and Israel still share interests in preventing the spread of radical Islam in the Middle East. Both are threatened by the growing fragmentation of Syria and the chance that Syria’s stockpile of chemical weapons could fall into the hands of Lebanon-based Hizbullah, Iran’s terrorist proxy. And both fear the growing power of Iran and the chance that Iran could become a nuclear power.

It is not clear how long the negotiations over compensation will take. If an agreement is reached, Israel will pay the money into a Turkish-government fund which will then disburse it to the victims’ families. The next step will be appointing ambassadors and re-staffing the embassies in both countries. That could take months, but it will take even longer before confidence will be restored.

Israel-Turkey rapprochement Accepting an apology graciously


“Turkey was the first to recognize Israel from the Muslim world. Since the 15th Century, Turkey was a shelter for the Jewish people. I can think of about 1,000 reasons why Turkey and Israel should be friends. There is an affinity in history; there is a closeness in geography.” These were the very first words of Israeli President Shimon Peres after Israel's apology to Turkey in an interview with a Turkish daily. I could not agree more with him.

First of all, I would like to start by saying that we — the people of Turkey — deeply cherish Israel's historic friendship with Turkey and deciding on an apology and compensation. These are surely momentous times in diplomacy, a turning point, but what is far more important is the meaning and message for our two people. An apology is a message from our Israeli friends saying that the friendship between Turkey and Israel is important to them and they wish to continue this friendship.

In the past, when my Israeli friends asked me whether I thought an apology was necessary, I always told them that I cannot decide such matters on behalf of the people of Israel, and that it was entirely up to them and their leaders to decide how to approach such issues. I, for one, do not place preconditions on an apology as it should be sincere, and cannot be done under compulsion.

Consequently, Israel chose to overlook the mistakes of Turkey regarding the Mavi Marmara incident, and apologized for her operational mistakes and promised to pay compensation to the families of those who died because she wants to put this incident behind her and continue with our long-established frienship.

Apology is an honorable, graceful act, and in my opinion it will increase people's respect for Israel. Apology is a courtesy, a great beauty, and thus it can never be degrading, humiliating or aggrieving. Israel did the right thing, and we deeply appreciate it.

However we should expect that some circles will attempt to make news just for provocation and attempt to ruin or interrupt this process of healing diplomatic ties. Nevertheless, we hear the voices of negative people who want to put Israel in a difficult position. So I would like to turn to my fellow Turks and criticize these voices that speak about this as though we made them cave in and apologize. It is absolutely wrong to attempt any kind of humiliation out of this and use this virtuous act as a tool for propaganda to incite anger. Israel is doing this for friendship. It is outrageous to use inflammatory language or condescend to using it as something against Israel. It is simply a humiliation upon those hateful voices for not knowing how to graciously appreciate this apology.

I also do not approve the billboards that the Ankara municipality has put up to thank Prime Minister Erdogan for allegedly compelling Israel to apologize. I do not think that either putting up such ads nor their gloating tone is right. This is not the way to accept an apology.

If one has apologized, then you must accept it right away. If someone apologizes, they are not to be dishonored. Someone who apologizes should be treated kindly, and gracious behavior should be shown. The kind of behavior that shows you accept him as a friend, and also shows your maturity, quality and worth. There is no place for such gloating in our tradition. That is why I find it deeply unbecoming to stooping to use this gracious act as something disadvantegous for Israel.

If this kind of humiliating rhetoric is used, then no friendship would be left. If one uses such inflammatory language, then it would mean consigning the friendship of Israel to the back burner and that would be a terrible mistake. Frankly I see this as an act to eliminate friendship so I condemn those who try to take this apology and twist it in such a way to dishonor Israel.

As to the issue of the Gaza blockade, it is unfortunate that this matter is still the source of a rift between Turkey and Israel, nor should it have been made a condition of Turkish-Israeli relations. Of course I look forward to the day when the blockade is lifted; I don't wish to see the Palestinians confined to their territories. But the Israelis have legitimate security concerns of rockets falling upon them being fired from Gaza, and they are deeply concerned about weapons being smuggled into Gaza via the Mediterranean. Consequently, we — as Turkey — must express that Israel's security is important to us as well, while also expressing our concern for the well-being of the citizens of Gaza. Justice is, after all, not one-sided.

We must not forget that Israel is a unique country dealing with existential threats on a daily basis. Throughout their history as a people, they have been beaten, driven out, chased, burned, hung and slaughtered. They have faced seemingly endless persecution, from the Roman Empire to the Spanish Inquistion, from the pogroms of the Tsars to the ravine at Babi Yar, from the mindless slaughter of the Crusaders to the mechanized factories of death which shall be forever remembered with horror; Auschwitz, Sobibor, Chelmno and others. The Israeli people have no wish to live worrying that fanatics, motivated by an irrational prejudice and hatred will kill and maim and bomb them and their children. Let us provide assurance so they can relax, and lift this nonsensical prejudice against them. We, as Muslims, must be able to guarantee the people of Israel that there will be no more of this madness.

So let me express this on behalf of Turkey: Of course we want security for Israel, and we want you to live in peace and prosperity. You must live in peace in your historic motherland which has been your home for thousands of years; we are not at all uneasy at your presence there. May God bestow peace and prosperity upon you till the End of Days. You are the children of prophets. There is plenty of land everywhere. It is one of our basic convictions to establish a unity in the whole region that will include Russia, Armenia and Israel, to live in peace and brotherhood, to ensure the independence of states within themselves and survival of their own governments, to advocate a fully-formed, mature democracy and the implementation of secularism with meticulous care. God willing, Israel will see their finest and their best days under this unity, side by side with Muslims, as brothers and sisters.


The author is a political and religious commentator from Turkey, and an executive producer at a Turkish TV. She is also the spokesperson of a prominent international interfaith organization. She can be reached on http://www.facebook.com/sinemtezyapar and https://twitter.com/SinemTezyapar.

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

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.”

Report: Israel mulling apology for ‘operational errors’ on Turkish flotilla


Israel reportedly may apologize to Turkey for “operational errors” during its fatal raid on a 2010 Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza ahead of a visit by U.S. President Barack Obama.

The Turkish newspaper Radikal on Feb. 20 reported that the partial apology may have been the subject of secret talks between Turkey and Israel.

Radikal journalist Deniz Zeyrek wrote that unnamed Turkish foreign ministry officials told him on Feb. 19 that “such meetings could be going on.”

Obama, who is due to visit Israel in late March, has pressed for reconciliation between the U.S. allies.

As a condition to normalizing diplomatic ties with Israel, Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize for the death of nine activists who were killed when Israeli commandoes raided the Mavi Marmara ship during a takeover operation in the Mediterranean.

The aid ship, chartered by the Islamist IHH organization, was headed to the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel’s naval siege on the Hamas-run area.

Turkey has also demanded Israel lift the siege, but is prepared to drop that demand, the report in Radikal said. Additionally, Israel will offer compensation to the families of those killed, according to the report.

Such a deal was under consideration in the summer of 2011, but was scuttled in part because of objections by then-Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman. Now facing trial on corruption charges, Liberman is no longer in government. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to cobble together a governing coaltion after close elections last month.

Radikal quoted an unnamed Turkish diplomat as saying that ‘’It does not seem likely that any step will be taken before the new Israeli government is formed and an official position adopted.

Israel to allow Turkish construction material into Gaza


Israel has agreed to allow Turkish trucks carrying construction materials into the Gaza Strip for the construction of a hospital.

The Turkish Hurriyet Daily News reported Monday that the construction of the Turkish-Palestine Friendship Hospital, which it called “the most symbolic Turkish humanitarian assistance to date for the people of Palestine,” will be complete within the year. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to attend its official opening.

The hospital will have 150 beds, making it the largest hospital in Gaza and Ramallah.

Israel's permission to bring in the construction materials came “as part of Israel’s decision to soften its embargo over Gaza,” the newspaper wrote. It also noted that easing the blockade on goods allowed to enter Gaza is part of Turkey's conditions for normalizing relations with Israel, which have been on hold since Israel's raid of the Mavi Marmara, a ship attempting to break the naval blockade of Gaza. Nine Turkish citizens were killed in the ensuing violence.

Turkey also has demanded that Israel apologize for the raid and compensate the families of those killed.

Obama discusses violence in Israel, Gaza with Turkish Prime Minister


President Barack Obama called Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to discuss how the two countries could help bring an end to escalating violence between Israel and Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, a White House official said on Saturday.

Ben Rhodes, White House deputy national security adviser, told reporters the United States “wants the same thing as the Israelis want,” which is an end to rocket attacks on Israel by Palestinian militants in Gaza.

The United States is emphasizing diplomacy and “de-escalation” as keys to solving the conflict, Rhodes said.

U.S. urges Turkey, Egypt, others to encourage Hamas to de-escalate


The United States has asked countries that have contact with Hamas to urge the group to stop its recent rocket attacks from Gaza, a White House adviser said on Thursday.

“We've … urged those that have a degree of influence with Hamas such as Turkey, and Egypt and some of our European partners to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,” said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security advisor, in a conference call with reporters.

Asked whether the United States was concerned that Israeli ground forces would enter Gaza, Rhodes said: “Ultimately it's up to the Israeli government to make determinations about how they're going to carry out their military objectives.”

Israel seizes pro-Palestinian activist ship, Estelle off Gaza


The Israeli navy seized an international pro-Palestinian activist ship on the Mediterranean high seas on Saturday to prevent it breaching Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip, a military spokeswoman said.

She said no one was hurt when marines boarded the SV Estelle, a three-mast schooner, and that it was rerouted to the Israeli port of Ashdod after it ignored orders to turn away from the Hamas-governed Palestinian enclave.

The Estelle was carrying 30 activists from Europe, Canada and Israel, humanitarian cargo such as cement and goodwill items such as children's books, a mission spokesman said on Saturday.

Shipboard activists could not immediately be reached for comment on the interception, which was carried out in international waters as they were on their final Gaza approach.

Greece, five of whose citizens were among the activists, said in a statement issued by the Foreign Ministry in Athens that all of the Estelle's passengers were in good health.

Citing a need to stem arms smuggling to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, Israel maintains a tight naval blockade of Gaza. Israel and neighbouring Egypt also limit overland traffic to and from the territory.

Palestinians describe the curbs as collective punishment for Gaza's 1.6 million residents, and their supporters abroad have mounted several attempts to break the blockade by sea. Most were stopped by Israel, and detained foreign activists repatriated.

In a May 2010 interception, Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists in clashes aboard their Gaza-bound ship.

An inquiry into that incident commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon found the Gaza blockade legal but faulted the Israeli navy for excessive force.

Israel goes to U.N. in effort to halt Gaza-bound ship


Israel asked the United Nations to stop a Swedish-owned ship carrying human rights activists from attempting to break Israel's naval blockade of Gaza.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations, Ron Prosor, called the ship Estelle a “provocation” that “raises tensions and could easily spark a serious escalation of the conflict.”

“I want to stress that Israel is not interested in confrontation but remains determined to enforce its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip — and will take all lawful actions to this end,” Prosor wrote in a letter delivered Tuesday to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

Part of the Freedom Flotilla movement, the Estelle reportedly is carrying humanitarian aid such as cement, basketballs and musical instruments. The small vessel began its journey in Sweden and toured Europe, including Finland, France and Spain, before arriving earlier this month in the Gulf of Naples. It is due to arrive in Gaza's territorial waters early next week.

The boat, flying the Finnish flag, also is carrying at least 17 activists from Canada, Norway, Sweden, Israel and the United States. Members of parliament of four European countries reportedly boarded the vessel at sea near Greece on Tuesday, according to the Swedish newspaper Helsingin Sanomat, which said there are now some 30 activists.

Israel imposed the blockade in 2007 after the terrorist group Hamas took control of the Gaza Strip. It says the sanctions are to prevent weapons and other terror material from being smuggled in to Gaza,

The Freedom Flotilla's first attempt to break the blockade ended in the deaths of nine Turkish activists after Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade.

Mavi Marmara victims’ families sue Israel


Relatives of nine Turkish citizens killed in the raid aboard the Mavi Marmara ship filed a lawsuit against Israel, according to Turkish reports.

The lawsuit was filed last Friday in a Turkish court by more than 30 relatives of Turkish citizens killed in the May 31, 2010 raid, as well as 30 others injured in the attack, according to the Hurriyet Daily News and the Anatolia news agency. They are calling for about $5 million in compensatory damages.

The trial against four Israeli commanders in the raid, including former Israeli Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, is scheduled to begin in a Turkish court in early November.

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel's naval blockade of the coastal strip.

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. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have severed diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

‘No reason’ to apologize for Mavi Marmara incident, Lieberman tells Turkish journalists


Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Turkish journalists that Israel has “no reason to apologize” for the Mavi Marmara incident.

Lieberman in a meeting Sunday with the journalists in Jerusalem said that Israel is ready to discuss the incident and would consider the issue of an apology as part of a package including other issues, such as Iran, Gaza and Hamas, the Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reported. He said current developments in the region made it important for Turkey and Israel to normalize relations.

Lieberman called the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza, a “clear provocation, and it was our right to protect the lives of our soldiers. Frankly speaking, Israel has no reason to apologize,” he said.

Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the May 31, 2010 raid by Israeli commandos.

It was Lieberman’s first meeting with a Turkish delegation since the incident.

Israel mishandled Gaza flotilla incident, comptroller report finds


Israel’s State Comptroller issued a report highly critical of the government’s handling of the Mavi Marmara Turkish aid flotilla to Gaza in 2010.

The report, issued Wednesday on the eve of Micha Lindenstrauss’ leaving his position, said that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision-making process was flawed and that the strategy did not follow the recommended protocol.

In addition, the report said, key agencies were kept in the dark about what was happening and the possibility of extreme or fatal violence was ignored. There also was no proper documentation of discussions surrounding actions taken against the flotilla nor the decisions that were made.

“Israel’s democratic process includes institutional mechanisms for independent oversight and we thank the State Comptroller for his work,” Netanyahu spokesman Mark Regev said in a statement.

“We reiterate that the panel established by the UN Secretary General to investigate the flotilla incident clearly ruled that the maritime blockade to prevent weapons reaching the terrorists in Gaza is legitimate self defense and that Israel’s decision to intercept the flotilla was indeed legal under international law. Ultimately, weapons that reach Hamas in Gaza end up being used against Israeli civilians.”

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip. Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the raid.

Lindenstrauss also criticized Defense Minister Ehud Barak for not looking into whether the army was prepared to deal with a violent response from the Marmara’s passengers.

The report also criticized Israel’s public response to the incident, saying it maintained silent for too long while Palestinian supporters capitalized on the tragedy in the media.

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 have been illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Thousands in Istanbul rally against Israel


Thousands of Turks in Istanbul rallied against Israel Thursday, marking the second anniversary of an Israel Defense Forces raid on the Mavi Marmara ship that was part of a flotilla that claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Israel had determined that the flotilla was violating its blockade of the coastal area, and found weapons aboard.

The Humanitarian Aid Foundation, known as IHH and one of the main groups behind the flotilla, organized Thursday’s rally. Israel, the United States and other nations consider the IHH to be a terrorist group.

Protesters in Turkey called for those responsible for the raid to be held accountable, AFP reported.

Earlier this week, a Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid.

Turkey and Israel have not had diplomatic relations since the raid.

Turkish criminal court accepts indictments against Israeli commanders


A Turkish criminal court accepted indictments against the four top Israeli commanders who led the 2010 raid on the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship.

İstanbul’s 7th High Criminal Court on Monday unanimously accepted the indictment submitted last week by a special Turkish prosecutor, according to the English-language Turkish news service Today’s Zaman.

The 144-page indictment seeks 10 aggravated life jail sentences against former Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi; Navy commander Vice Adm. Eliezer Marom; military intelligence chief Maj.-Gen. Amos Yadlin; and the head of Air Force intelligence, Brig. Gen. Avishai Levi.

The soldiers who carried out the raid are expected to be named in a separate indictment, following an ongoing investigation, according to Zaman.

The indictment mentions 10 “slain Turks.” Nine Turkish nationals, including a Turkish-American man, were killed in clashes during the raid. The 10th person is a man who remains in a vegetative state, according to Zaman. The indictment also reportedly refers to 490 victims and complainants, including 189 who were reported injured in the attacks.

Israeli Navy commandos on May 31, 2010 boarded the Mavi Marmara, which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning the ship not to sail into waters near the Gaza Strip in circumvention of Israel’s naval blockade of the coastal strip.

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 have been illegal. Ankara has called on Israel for an official apology and compensation for the raid, and to lift the Gaza blockade. The two countries have broken off diplomatic relations and military agreements since the incident.

Turkey ready to issue indictments in Marmara incident


Turkish government prosecutors have completed their investigation into the incident aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara in 2010.

The prosecutors have requested from Israel’s Foreign Ministry the names of the Israeli soldiers to be listed on the indictment, Turkish Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin said Tuesday according to the English-language Today’s Zaman, citing the Anatolia news agency.

Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara,which claimed to be carrying humanitarian aid, after warning it not to sail into waters near Gaza. Nine Turkish nationals, including one Turkish-American man, were killed in the clashes.

The Israeli government-appointed Turkel commission investigated the incident, despite calls from the United Nations to hold an independent investigation. The commission found that the government and the military behaved appropriately and that Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza was legal.

The UN-appointed Palmer committee also found the Gaza blockade to be illegal but said that Israel used excessive force while boarding the vessel. .

Turkey’s inquiry deemed the Gaza blockade and the Israeli raid to have been illegal.

Turkey says Israel not welcome at NATO summit


Turkey blocked the participation of Israel in next month’s NATO Summit in Chicago, a Turkish newspaper reported.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu vetoed Israel’s participation during a NATO foreign ministers meeting last week in Brussels, the Hurriyet Daily News reported Monday.

“There will be no Israeli presence at the NATO meeting unless they issue a formal apology and pay compensation for the Turkish citizens their commandos killed in international waters,” a senior Turkish official told Hurriyet, referring to the deaths of nine Turkish activists during an Israeli naval commando raid on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara as it attempted to break Israeli’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip in May 2010. 

“Those countries who wish to see normalization in ties between Turkey and Israel should advise Israel to apologize and to compensate the killing of Turks in international waters,” the official told the news service.

Israel, as well as other countries including Egypt, Mauritania, Algeria and Morocco, is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program.

Turkey has previously vetoed Israeli attempts to participate more fully in NATO. It vetoed an Israeli request to open an office at NATO headquarters and its participation in some Mediterranean Dialogue group activities, according to Hurriyet.

“You are talking about being partners and partnership values. But partners, first of everything, should act like partners, so that we’ll treat them accordingly,” Davutoglu said during last week’s NATO meeting, according to Hurriyet

Australian lawmaker’s call against Israel criticized


The head of Australian Jewry scolded a left-wing parliamentarian who demanded that an Australian member of a Gaza-bound flotilla be immediately released.

Executive Council of Australian Jewry president Dr. Danny Lamm chastized Greens Sen. Lee Rhiannon Monday after she called on the Israeli government to release Sydney resident Michael Coleman, one of 27 pro-Palestinian activists arrested Nov. 4 by the Israeli Navy as they trief to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza.

“It is the Israeli Defense Forces that have acted illegally as the boat Mr. Coleman and other Freedom Waves participants were on was in international waters when intercepted,” said Rhiannon, a vocal supporter of the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel.

But Lamm retorted: “Senator Rhiannon’s characterization of the blockade of Gaza and the boarding of vessels that are used to break the blockade as ‘illegal’ is mendacious nonsense.

“The people who want to break the blockade are not interested in providing humanitarian assistance to the Palestinians,” Lamm added. “If that was their fundamental aim, they could send their supplies in by land via Israel.  Their main purpose is to harm Israel and her people.”

Israeli navy intercepts Gaza-bound boats


The Israeli navy Friday boarded two boats carrying pro-Palestinian activists toward the Gaza Strip in a fresh challenge to Israel’s blockade of the Islamist-controlled territory.

The military said in a statement that the Canadian “Tahrir” and Irish “Saoirse” vessels, which had 27 people on board, would be taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“The Israel Navy soldiers operated as planned, and took every precaution necessary to ensure the safety of the activists onboard the vessels as well as themselves,” the statement said. A military source said nobody was injured in the operation.

In May 2010, Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish Mavi Marmara aid vessel to enforce the naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave, and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists, some of them armed with clubs and knives.

Israel spurned Ankara’s demand for an apology over the incident. Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador two months ago.

Carrying a small amount of medical supplies, the “Tahrir and “Saoirse” had sailed from Turkey Wednesday. The Israeli military said the boats were in international waters when they were stopped, between 40 and 60 miles from the coast.

The activists on board came from Australia, Canada, Ireland and the United States, and included Palestinians and at least one Arab citizen of Israel, organizers said.

The two boats had continued sailing toward Gaza, ignoring instructions to turn around or unload their supplies in Israel or neighboring Egypt, Israeli military officials said.

Citing the need to prevent weapons smuggling, Israel has blockaded Gaza since the Islamist group Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007.

A U.N. report on Israel’s interception of the 2010 Turkish ship said the blockade was a “legitimate security measure,” adding that “its implementation complied with the requirements of international law.” Turkey has rejected that ruling.

Pro-Palestinian groups behind the latest attempt to reach Gaza by sea condemn the blockade as illegal and inhumane.

Paul Murphy, a socialist member of the European Parliament on board one of the ships, wrote in a blog posted earlier on the Internet that the mission was in “response to the call from people within Gaza to try to break the siege they suffer under.”

Israeli authorities said that once the two boats had reached Ashdod, they would undergo security checks. Those on board would be questioned, then taken to prison service holding facilities where they will wait until booked on flights back home.

They have the right to a court hearing before being deported.

Israel allows humanitarian aid, food and some other supplies into Gaza for its 1.7 million people, many of them impoverished refugees, via land crossings it closely monitors. Gaza also has a border with Egypt over which goods are imported.

Gaza’s Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh praised the attempt to break the blockade in a sermon at a mosque on Friday: “We appreciate highly those activists who came in solidarity and we stress that their goal is being achieved whether or not they arrived by exposing (Israeli) occupation (measures).”

Turkey had threatened to give naval protection to future aid flotillas following the 2010 violence, but Ankara has kept largely quiet about this latest operation.

Some of the activists, who dubbed their mission “Freedom Waves,” had participated in a thwarted seaborne attempt in June to reach Gaza, which was blocked from setting sail from Greece.

Additional reporting by Nidal al-Mughrabi and Maayan Lubell; Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alistair Lyon

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.

Israel ready to stop boats heading for Gaza


The Israeli navy will prevent two yachts carrying pro-Palestinian activists which left Turkey on Wednesday from breaching an Israeli blockade and reaching the Gaza Strip, an Israeli military official said.

Lieutenant-Colonel Avital Leibovich, speaking to reporters by telephone, would not say how the boats might be stopped, saying only “we will have to assess and see if we are facing violent passengers.”

Israel was aware two yachts had set sail carrying Irish, Canadian and U.S. activists, Leibovich said. Describing their journey as a “provocation,” she said they were still far from the Israeli and Gazan coast.

Israel would offer to unload any aid supplies on board and deliver them to Gaza, Leibovich said. Israel blockades the Gaza coast to prevent the smuggling of weapons to Palestinian gunmen in the territory, she added.

The military spokesman’s office said the navy was “prepared to contact” the vessels and had “completed the necessary preparations in order to prevent them from reaching the Gaza Strip.”

Israel has blockaded Gaza since Hamas seized control of the territory in 2007, after routing Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Israel permits humanitarian aid and supplies to reach the territory through a land crossing, and Gaza also shares a border with Egypt.

An Israeli government official told Reuters earlier that Israel “will take whatever measures will be necessary” to maintain its blockade.

Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals on one ship in a Gaza-bound flotilla last year when the activists fought them with clubs and knives as the commandos tried to seize control of the ship to enforce the blockade.

The incident badly damaged ties between Israel and Turkey, which reached a crisis point two months ago when Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador after Israel rejected Turkey’s request for an apology for the flotilla deaths.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan; Editing by Tim Pearce

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