Officials: UN report won't mend Israel-Turkey ties

September 2, 2011 - 7:05 AM
Mideast Israel Palestinians Turkey

FILE - This file photo made from video provided by the Israeli Defense Force on May 31, 2010 shows what the IDF says is one of several commandos being dropped onto the Mavi Marmara ship by helicopter in the Mediterranean Sea. An Israeli official says a long-awaited U.N. report on bloodshed aboard a Gaza-bound protest flotilla last year shows Israel's actions did not violate international law. The official spoke on condition of anonymity because the report has yet to be officially released. He said publication would likely be later Friday, Sept. 2, 2011. (AP Photo/Israel Defense Force, File) AP HAS NO WAY OF INDEPENDENTLY VERIFYING THE AUTHENTICITY OF THE VIDEO PROVIDED BY THE ISRAELI DEFENCE FORCE

JERUSALEM (AP) — The anticipated publication Friday of a U.N. report on violence aboard a Gaza-bound protest flotilla last year has led to a further souring of the key Mideast relationship between Israel and Turkey, after Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador.

Turkey on Friday expelled the envoy and suspended military cooperation after insisting on an Israeli apology by the time the report is published.

Israel says there will be no apology. Israeli officials say the report does not demand an Israeli apology, establishing instead that Israel should express regret and pay reparations.

An Israeli official said Friday that the report showed Israel's actions were in keeping with international law. The official said Israel hoped the two countries could now "return to the cooperation that was a cornerstone of regional stability."

He spoke on condition of anonymity because the report had yet to be officially released. He said Israel expected it to be made public by the U.N. later Friday.

Relations between Turkey and Israel, once close, have slid in recent years as Turkey has tilted away from the West. They deteriorated sharply after the flotilla bloodshed.

The U.N report says "Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations, repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East and international peace and security," according to a copy obtained by The New York Times.

Turkey announced the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador and suspension of military cooperation hours before the report was to be published, the most significant downgrading in ties between the two countries since the bloody flotilla attack last year.

A senior Israeli government official who had seen the report told the AP earlier this week that Israel has come to believe that Turkey is intent on worsening ties with Israel in order to bolster its own position in the Arab and Islamic world. While Israel does not rule out quiet talks with Turkey on an expression of regret and reparations to families of the dead activists, the report does not ask for an Israeli apology and there will not be one, he said.

He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.

Nine pro-Palestinian activists — eight Turks and one Turkish-American — were killed aboard the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, after passengers resisted a takeover by Israeli naval commandos. The flotilla was en route to Gaza in an attempt to bring international attention to Israel's blockade of the Palestinian territory. Each side blamed the other, claiming self-defense.

After the violence triggered an international outcry, Israel eased restrictions on goods moving into Gaza overland but left the naval blockade in place.

The activists charge the blockade constitutes collective punishment and is illegal. Israel asserts that it is necessary to prevent weapons from reaching the militants who regularly bombard Israeli towns with rockets from Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas.

The U.N. committee established in the aftermath of the incident was made up of two international diplomats — former leaders of New Zealand and Colombia — one representative from Israel and one from Turkey.

The report, as published by the New York Times, accepts Israel's position that the naval blockade is a "legitimate security measure." It acknowledges that Israel "faces a real threat to its security from militant groups in Gaza."

Participants in the flotilla, the committee wrote, "acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade." Most passengers were peaceful, according to the report, but a small group was prepared for organized resistance. These passengers were "armed with iron bars, staves, chains, and slingshots, and there is some indication that they also used knives."

After soldiers rappelled onto the deck from helicopters, according to the report, "three soldiers were captured, mistreated, and placed at risk by those passengers. Several others were wounded."

The report established, however, that Israel's use of force was "excessive and unreasonable."

"No satisfactory explanation has been provided to the Panel by Israel for any of the nine deaths," according to the report as quoted by the paper.

The committee noted "forensic evidence showing that most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range."

The senior Israeli government official said those hit in the back were attacking soldiers when they were shot from behind by other soldiers acting to save their comrades.