erdogan - Reuters - December 1 2010
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo by Reuters
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The Turkish government is interested in mending relations with Israel by June 2011, yet maintains its demand for an apology from Israel over the deaths of nine Turkish civilians during a raid on a Gaza-bound ship earlier this year, which Israel has refused, Turkish daily Today’s Zaman reported on Saturday.

“We support the talks that started in Geneva. We hope that Israel continues to display a constructive approach," Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek told Today’s Zaman. "Turkey’s conditions are out there but it seems difficult for Israel to accept those conditions considering its domestic politics."

Turkey-Israel relations have deteriorated in recent years and reached a low point last May when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged aid flotilla attempting to break the siege on Gaza.

Netanyahu launched an effort to end the diplomatic crisis with Ankara following Turkey's decision to send aid to assist in controlling the worst forest fire in Israel's history last week, and sent the Israeli representative on the United Nations committee investigating the Gaza flotilla incident, Yosef Ciechanover, to Geneva to meet with Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu, an undersecretary at the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

The Turks are demanding that Israel apologize for the killing of Turkish civilians and compensate the families of the victims from the flotilla raid earlier this year.

Turkish daily Huriyet reported Thursday that Israel and Turkey were close to an agreement over the wording of an apology Ankara has demanded as the two sides move toward rebuilding ties.

Most of the remaining points of contention concern the exact phrasing of Israel's apologies related to its raid on the flotilla. Turkey Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan demands that Israel say it "apologizes," while Israel prefers to use the word "regrets."

Israel is refusing to use the word "apology," as it continues to insist that the actions the navy took on the flotilla were legitimate. Israel may have, however, agreed to offer compensation to the bereaved families.

According to the report in Huriyet, Israel wants the expression of sorrow and regret to be "humanitarian" and addressed toward the victims, rather than an official apology to the Turkish government. Erdogan, for his part, is demanding that Israel apologize "to the Turkish republic."

Israeli politicians, including Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and his deputy Danny Ayalon, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, and former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert have expressed their objection against an Israeli apology for the Gaza flotilla raid.

“There is a debate on the wording, on the word ‘apology’,” former Turkish Foreign Ministry undersecretary who took part in the bilateral fence-mending talks in Geneva, told Agence France-Presse. “As far as it concerns the Turkish side, it has never negotiated a word other than the word ‘apology’,” he said.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lauded the "new era" that had begun in the country's diplomatic relations with Israel, enabled due to  Erdogan's decision to send aide to help extinguish the worst forest fire in Israel's history, Israel Radio reported Friday.

"A new era has begun in Turkey-Israel relations after Erdogan sent aircrafts to Israel to join efforts to extinguish a major forest fire in Haifa," Turkey news agencies reported Davutoglu saying during a press conference with Syrian Foreign Minister Walid Mualem in Ankara.