x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 18 January 2018

Turkey pushes for Israeli apology

Israel will never say sorry for defending itself, a government official says after Turkey demands an apology for a deadly raid on an aid convoy to Gaza.

Israel will never say sorry for defending itself, a senior government official said today after Turkey demanded an apology for a deadly commando raid on an aid convoy to Gaza. "Israel will never apologise for defending its citizens," the official said, echoing remarks made last week by the prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. "Of course, we regret the loss of life but it was not the Israeli side that initiated the violence," the official said.

The Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu has vowed Ankara would sever diplomatic ties with Israel unless it apologised over the operation which left nine people dead, all of them Turkish nationals. But Israeli officials reacted angrily to Turkey's threats. "When you want want an apology, you don't use threats or ultimatums," foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said. "Everything leads us to believe that Turkey has another agenda in mind," he said, without giving further details.

Mr Davutoglu was quoted as telling Turkey's Hurriyet newspaper today that "relations will be broken" unless Israel apologises for the May 31 attack or admits the raid was unjust. Turkey has closed its airspace to all Israeli military flights in reaction to the raid, Mr Davutoglu said, adding that the closure could be extended to civilian flights as well. Israel has consistently refused to apologise in the wake of the raid which has seen once-close relations with Turkey reach crisis point.

On Friday, Mr Netanyahu said: "Israel cannot apologise because its soldiers had to defend themselves to avoid being lynched by a crowd," adding in an interview with Channel 1 public television "we regret the loss of life." On May 31, Israeli special forces stormed a flotilla of six ships carrying aid for the blockaded Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks on board the Turkish passenger ferry Mavi Marmara. Israel says its commandos were ambushed and only used force to defend themselves.

It also defended the raid saying it had to stop vessels from reaching Gaza since they could be carrying weapons for the enclave's Hamas rulers. But those on board the ship insist the troops opened fire as soon as they landed. "Our young servicemen have the right to defend themselves when their lives are in imminent danger," the Israeli government official said. "They were compelled to defend themselves from a mob that tried to lynch them... It was only on that one boat with the hard core Islamist activists from the Turkish IHH that violence erupted because those activists initiated the violence."

The latest confrontation between Ankara and Tel Aviv comes just days after Mr Davutoglu held secret talks in Europe with an Israeli cabinet minister to try and ease the feud sparked by the deadly raid. At the meeting, Mr Davutoglu pressed Ankara's demand for an apology. Israel has resisted calls for an international probe into the raid, but has set up an internal commission of inquiry with two international observers.

The military also has launched its own inquiry which is due to be completed next week. * AFP