|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives | Search|
Issue 501/ 3rd - 9th Sept 2011
Turkey Expels Israeli Ambassador Over Gaza Flotilla Row
Turkey has expelled Israel's ambassador and suspended all military agreements over its refusal to apologize for last year's raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
This comes a day after a leaked UN report said Israeli commandos used excessive force when they boarded an aid ship. Nine Turkish activists died.
The Turkish Foreign Minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, said it was "time Israel pays a price for its illegal actions".
Israel has refused to apologise and said its troops acted in self-defence.
"Israel, like any other country, has a legitimate right to protect its citizens and soldiers," an Israeli government official told the BBC.
A copy of the UN report leaked to the New York Times says Israeli forces did use excessive force when they intercepted the Turkish-led flotilla trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza in May 2010.
But the report also concludes that Israel's naval blockade of Gaza is legal - a move that has angered Turkey.
Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli forces stormed the flotilla.
The BBC's Jonathan Head, in Istanbul, says relations between Turkey and Israel have been frozen since last year's flotilla incident, but now they are being downgraded to the lowest possible level.
Turkey announced the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador hours before the report was expected to be published.
Turkish President Abdullah Gul said the report was "null and void for us", in televised remarks reported by AFP.
On Thursday Mr Davutoglu said the UN report was Israel's "deadline" to apologise.
Hamas, the militant group that runs the Gaza Strip, applauded the Turkish move.
"This is a natural response to the Israeli crime against the freedom flotilla," said spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri.
The leaked 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".
Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel shortly after the raid and cancelled joint military exercises.
"Turkey-Israel diplomatic relations have been reduced to a second secretary level," Mr Davutoglu told a news conference on Friday.
"All personnel above the second secretary level will return to their countries by Wednesday at the latest."
The publication of the UN report has been delayed several times to encourage reconciliation between Israel and Turkey, but that has not happened.
The report says: "Israel's decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable."
But the UN panel of inquiry, chaired by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, added that the naval blockade was legal and appropriate because it was aimed at preventing weapons being brought in by sea.
Israel welcomed the report's confirmation of the legality of the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip and Israel's right to enforce it in international waters.
The New York Times says that while Israel feels vindicated by the report, Turkey is upset with the conclusion on the legal status of Israel's naval blockade.
Israeli commandos descended from helicopters on to the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara in international waters about 130km (80 miles) from the Israeli coast.
Activists say the commandos started shooting as soon as they hit the deck but Israeli officials say they fired in self-defense.
"During the events of the Mavi Marmara flotilla, Israeli soldiers boarded the boat with non-lethal means. They had no intention to hurt anyone," the unnamed Israeli official told the BBC. "Once the Israeli soldiers were viciously attacked by dozens of violent IHH activists, armed with batons, knives and steel pipes, the soldiers had to defend themselves."
"After many of the soldiers were wounded during the operation, nine of the IHH rioters who had endangered their lives were killed."
Relations between Turkey and Israel, once close, have soured in recent years with Turkey's current Islamist government being more sympathetic than its predecessors to the Palestinian cause.