Erdogan: Turkish Warships Will Escort Aid Vessels to Gaza

Posted September 8th, 2011 at 9:50 pm (UTC-5)
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Turkey says it will monitor international waters in the Mediterranean Sea and send warships to escort its vessels carrying humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, protecting them from Israeli attack.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told al-Jazeera television Thursday that his country will not allow a repetition of last year's deadly Israeli raid on the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara that killed nine of its citizens.

Mr. Erdogan also said Turkey has taken steps to patrol the eastern Mediterranean, vowing to stop Israel from unilaterally “exploiting” natural resources in the area.

Turkey imposed several sanctions on Israel this week, expelling the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats from Ankara and suspending military trade and cooperation between the former allies.

Earlier Thursday, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said he believes the rift “will pass.” He said Turkey is “not an enemy” of Israel and both nations recognize their importance as allies of the West.

A Turkish ruling party official said his country has not eliminated all options with Israel. He reiterated Turkey's demand for an Israeli apology following the Mavi Marmara raid and the payment of compensation to the families of the Turkish activists killed in the incident.

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said Washington wants the two nations to keep diplomatic channels open and normalize relations as soon as possible.

Turkey's main opposition party has criticized the government's handling of the crisis, saying it should not have allowed the relationship with Israel to worsen as much as it has.

Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara to enforce an Israeli blockade of Gaza aimed at preventing weapons from reaching militants who control the Palestinian territory. The vessel was carrying humanitarian aid. A confrontation on the ship led to the killings of nine Turkish activists and the wounding of several Israeli soldiers.

A U.N. report published last week said Israel used “excessive and unreasonable” force in the incident. But the panel that wrote the report also said Israel's enforcement of the naval blockade was a “legitimate” security measure against the Mavi Marmara and other vessels in the Gaza-bound flotilla. The report also accused the flotilla organizers of acting “recklessly” by challenging the blockade.

Israel has accepted the U.N. report with some reservations, while Turkey has rejected its key findings.