JERUSALEM // Israel's leader defiantly refused yesterday to apologise to Turkey for a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish-led flotilla bent on breaching Israel's Gaza Strip blockade - an incident that has battered a relationship once seen as a cornerstone of regional stability.
In his first public remarks since Turkey announced on Friday that it would expel the Israeli ambassador over the affair, Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Israel's regret for the loss of lives in the May 2010 raid and said he hoped to mend ties with Turkey, formerly Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world. Ankara had wanted Israel to apologise for the deaths and lift the embargo on Gaza. But Mr Netanyahu said Israel, in trying to keep arms from reaching Gaza, had no reason to apologise.
"We need not apologise for acting to defend our civilians, our children and our communities," Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet and journalists.
He said Israel "expressed regret" over the deaths, a formula Turkey had already deemed to be an unacceptable substitute for an apology, and voiced hope the two countries would shore up their frayed ties.
"Israel never wanted ties with Turkey to deterioriate, and Israel does not now seek a deterioration of ties," Mr Netanyahu said.
Turkey said on Saturday that it would apply this week for an investigation by the International Court of Justice into the legality of Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. On Friday, Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military agreements with Israel after a UN report on the killing of nine Turks during an Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound ship Mavi Marmara a year ago failed to trigger an apology from the Jewish state.