Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo by Reuters
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Israel Navy forces approaching one of six ships of an aid flotilla bound for Gaza, May 31, 2010. Photo by Reuters

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday suggested that normalization of ties with Israel would take time, hinting that Turkey wanted to ensure the victims of a flotilla raid were compensated and Israel remained committed to the easing of restrictions of goods to Gaza before restoring relations.

"We have said: An apology will be made, compensation will be paid and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted. There will be no normalization without these," he said in a public address on Sunday. "Normalization will happen the moment there is an implementation. But if there is no implementation, then I am sorry."

Erdogan's comments on Sunday came days after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the Turkish leader to apologize for the botched raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla in 2010 that killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American.

Erdogan accepted the apology and both leaders said they would begin the work of restoring full relations.

The statement was largely seen as effort to ease concerns of his religious and pro-Palestinian support. Erdogan has won praise both at home and the Arab world for his criticism of Israel and for breaking off ties with the Jewish state over the flotilla raid.

Turkey and Israel were once strong allies but relations began to decline after Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey's Islamist movement, became prime minister in 2003. Erdogan has embarked on a campaign to make Turkey a regional powerhouse in an attempt to become a leading voice in the Muslim world, distanced from Israel.

Animosity increased after the flotilla incident and ambassadors were later withdrawn. Netanyahu had previously refused to apologize, saying Israeli soldiers acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

Israel lifted most restrictions on the import of goods into Gaza following the flotilla incident and only restrictions on some construction materials and most exports remain in effect.

During Friday's conversation between the two leaders, Netanyahu said Israel had substantially lifted the restrictions on the entry of civilian goods into Gaza and the Palestinian territories and this would continue as long as "calm prevailed."

But Israeli military officials have taken to punishing Gaza residents for breaches of a November truce. Since Thursday, in response to militant rocket fire from the territory, all movement through a civilian crossing between Gaza and Israel was cancelled, except for humanitarian cases. Gaza fishermen had their permitted fishing territory restricted and a commercial goods crossing was shut down, according to Israeli rights group, Gisha.

Netanyahu said Saturday concerns over Syria's chemical weapons stockpile were the motivating factor in restoring ties with Turkey. He said the two countries, which border Syria, needed to communicate with each other over the issue.

Meanwhile, Erdogan said he plans to travel to the Gaza Strip and the West Bank "within the month, in April."

Speaking to CNN Turk about the matter of Israel-Turkey relations on Sunday, Israeli President Shimon Peres said that there were "more reasons today than ever before to strengthen Israeli-Turkish relations and cooperation."

The issue of reinstating relations between the two countries "was in the air and on our agenda," he said, adding that there was a strong will on both sides to end the misunderstandings and reinstate positive bilateral relations.

He pointed to the geographical proximity and historical closeness between the two sides, noting that Turkey was the first Muslim state to recognize Israel, as well as the first to "adopt a modern character that put social and technology and the center."