Israel: Turkey’s Decision to Expel Israeli Ambassador ‘Regrettable’

Posted September 3rd, 2011 at 7:00 pm (UTC-5)
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Israel has expressed regret over Turkey's decision to expel the Israeli ambassador and suspend all military ties between the two countries in the wake of a United Nations report on a deadly Israeli raid off the coast of the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip last year.

A statement issued Saturday by the prime minister's office said Israel “cherishes the significant ties, past and present, between the Turkish and Jewish peoples and therefore it had sought to settle the dispute peacefully.” But it also said Israel could not meet Ankara's demand to apologize for the raid, in which nine Turkish activist died, because Israel acted in legitimate self-defense.

The U.N. report issued Thursday charged that the raid was legal but that Israel used excessive force in the raid. But it also noted that while Israeli actions were unacceptable, Turkey did not do enough to prevent a violent confrontation, since some Turkish activist were armed with iron rods and knives used to attack Israeli commandos.

The U.N. report vindicated Israel on a key point — that the Israeli blockade on Gaza is a legal security measure aimed at preventing weapons from reaching Palestinians militants in Gaza. But Turkish President Abdullah Gul declared the U.N. report “null and void” for Turkey.

Israel has indicated it would accept the findings of the U.N. report. Turkey has long demanded an Israeli apology, compensation for the families of those who died and a scrapping of the blockade. Israel says it has not ruled out expressing regret and offering compensation.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration hopes the two nations “look for opportunities to improve their longstanding relationship.”

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressed hope Saturday that Israel and Turkey will improve their ties. He said both countries are very important to the region, and to the Middle East peace process.

The report was completed in July but U.N. officials repeatedly have delayed its release to give Israel and Turkey an opportunity to resolve their dispute about the incident, which has severely strained relations between the one-time allies.