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Israeli minister rules out flotilla apology to Turkey

July 21, 2011 7:58 P.M. (Updated: July 23, 2011 2:18 P.M.)
JERUSALEM (AFP) -- Israel will not "take responsibility" for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals by apologizing to Ankara over its botched 2010 raid on a ferry heading for Gaza, a senior cabinet minister said on Thursday.

"We are not ready to apologize, as apologizing is taking responsibility," Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon told reporters in Jerusalem.

"There is no room in my mind for any kind of apology that means taking responsibility," he said of the pre-dawn raid on a six-vessel flotilla that attempted to sail to Gaza in May 2010 in a bid to break Israel's naval embargo.

Yaalon's comments come after several failed attempts by Israel and Turkey to patch up ties that frayed almost to breaking point after commandos stormed the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ferry that was leading the flotilla.

He said Turkish representatives continued to insist that relations could only be restored if Israel apologized for the raid, compensated the families of those killed and the injured, and lifted its blockade on the Gaza Strip.

"We tried very hard to bridge the gap ... (but) as long as they insist on this position I can't see any agreement between the two sides," he said.

"We are ready to regret the loss of lives, we are ready to create a kind of humanitarian voluntary fund," he said, explaining that if such a fund were set up by Ankara, Israel would be prepared to pay money into it.

But he said there would be no official apology nor direct compensation offered to the families of those killed and the injured.

"A voluntary fund is acceptable, but compensation ... means that you are responsible."

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has repeatedly said the Jewish state will not apologize for the raid, although privately officials acknowledge that upgrading relations with Ankara would be desirable.

Media reports suggest there is increasing pressure on both sides for a final agreement that would restore once-strong ties between the two countries.

In an interview with Israel's Haaretz newspaper, a senior adviser to Turkish premier Recep Erdogan reportedly said Ankara was looking for a full restoration of ties and was "sorry about what happened."

"We greatly value our relations with Israel and are not thrilled with their deterioration," Ibrahim Kalin told the newspaper.

"Friends apologize for mistakes. We are sorry about what happened; we didn't intend to sever relations with Israel, which were excellent."

However, Kalin later said Haaretz had misquoted him.

"What we are saying in short is this: there will be no improvement in Turkish-Israeli ties as long as Turkey's well-known demands are not met," Kalin said.

"The improvement of ties depends on meeting Turkey's demands but the Haaretz newspaper has presented this in a different manner. They have carried their own statements as quotes by me," he said.

In a separate article published on its website, Haaretz said Israeli Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein had advised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to apologize to Turkey in a bid to head off lawsuits against the soldiers who raided the Mavi Marmara.

According to the website, Weinstein proposed Israel apologize for operational mistakes and misuse of force, rather than for attacking the flotilla and that in return, Turkey would agree to block any lawsuits against Israeli soldiers.

But Yaalon said such an agreement with Turkey would not prevent activists in other countries from filing similar suits and said he did not believe Ankara was looking to restore ties with Israel.

"The Turkish government initiated this deterioration as part of a new policy to look to the East rather than to the West," he said.

"I'm not sure that even an agreement between us and Turkey is going to change the Turkish policy towards Israel."

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