Turkish PM to Visit Egypt, Tunisia, Libya

Posted September 7th, 2011 at 3:20 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is planning to visit Middle Eastern countries, where activists have staged popular uprisings this year against long-time leaders.

Turkish officials say the prime minister's Arab Spring tour starts Monday and includes visits to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.

Mr. Erdogan has said he may also cross into the Gaza Strip from Egypt.

Earlier this year, an uprising in Tunisia forced President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali to flee to Saudi Arabia, and an uprising in Egypt led to the resignation of President Hosni Mubarak, ending his 30-year rule. In Libya, rebels are fighting government forces in a bid to oust Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.

Mr. Erdogan's tour comes at a time when Turkish-Israeli ties have hit a new low. Turkey has announced plans to suspend military trade and cooperation with Israel and to increase naval surveillance in Mediterranean waters, following Israel's refusal to apologize for a deadly raid on a Turkish aid ship last year.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Wednesday the worsening of Israeli-Turkish relations was not Israel's “choice.”

In Washington, White House spokesman Jay Carney said the deterioration of Turkish-Israeli ties is linked to the need to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute. He said U.S. President Barack Obama believes the Israelis and Palestinians should resume peace talks.

On Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan accused Israel of failing to meet its obligations in bilateral defense deals. He was referring to an agreement involving Turkey's purchase of Israeli drones.

In May 2010, Israeli commandos stormed the vessel Mavi Marmara as it sailed to the Gaza Strip, where Israel enforces a naval blockade to prevent weapons from reaching Palestinian militants in Gaza.

A confrontation on the vessel led to the killings of nine Turkish activists, including a Turkish-American, and the wounding of several Israeli soldiers.

A United Nations report released last week said Israel used “excessive and unreasonable” force by sending armed commandos to storm the Mavi Marmara. But the report also said Israel's enforcement of its Gaza naval blockade was a “legitimate” security measure against the ship and other vessels in the Gaza-bound flotilla. The report also accused Gaza flotilla organizers of acting “recklessly” by trying to challenge the blockade.