Erdogan mulling visit to Gaza to 'break blockade'
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considering traveling to the Gaza Strip to "break the Israeli blockade," the Lebanese newspaper al-Mustaqbal reported yesterday. Turkey threatened on Thursday that unless Israel apologized for attacking the Turkish civilians aboard the aid flotilla to Gaza, it would sever diplomatic relations. Israel said yesterday it would not apologize for the raid on Gaza-bound aid ships that left nine people dead.
Meanwhile, Turkey has launched an investigation into which Israeli leaders might be held responsible for the raid, the Turkish press reported yesterday.
Erdogan reportedly raised the Gaza visit idea in conversations with close associates and even informed the United States of his intention to ask the Turkish Navy to accompany another aid flotilla to Gaza. The Americans asked Erdogan to delay his plans, in light of regional tensions, the Lebanese report said.
The English-language Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported that the Turkish state prosecutor's office has opened an official investigation of Israel Defense Forces actions against the Freedom Flotilla activists. If the prosecutor's office in Istanbul compiles enough evidence, it will press charges against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Ehud Barak and Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi, the paper said. Charges would include murder, injury, attacking Turkish citizens on the open seas and piracy, it said.
Turkey is also urging the United States to probe the killing of an American-Turkish citizen who apparently was shot several times by soldiers.
Nine Turkish citizens (including one with dual U.S. citizenship ) were killed when Israeli forces stormed the flotilla carrying supplies to the Gaza Strip on Monday. The Strip has been under a crippling blockade since 2007.
The newspaper report said prosecutor Mehmet Tastan has interviewed most of the 24 Turkish activists who were wounded in the incident, and prosecutors have gathered evidence from autopsy reports of the dead activists.
A possible legal case would argue that the Israeli raid was "illegal" as the aid ships were in international waters, carrying humanitarian aid and that people on board were waving white flags.
Preliminary findings reportedly show some of the dead suffered multiple gunshot wounds at close range. One man, Ibrahim Bilgen, 60, was reportedly shot in the temples, back, thigh and chest. The Turkish-American Furkan Dogan was also shot at short range. State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said the U.S. would investigate the death of Dogan, 19, the youngest person killed in the attack. "We will look into the circumstances of the death of an American citizen, as we would do anywhere in the world at all times," Crowley said.
Crowley said that American consular officials saw Dogan's body in Israel before it was transferred to Istanbul but did not know the young man held dual citizenship.
Meanwhile, Turkey is reconsidering its relations with Israel. Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Friday that Turkey will reduce economic and defense ties with Israel, but bilateral cooperation will not be frozen entirely.
Ankara "will reduce relations in these fields to a minimum level, taking into account whether (cooperation ) already exists... whether payments have been made or not," Arinc said on NTV television.
"But as a state we cannot completely ignore a state whose existence we recognize," he said.