Turkey Lauds 'New Page' in Ties With Israel, but Still Demands Apology for Gaza Flotilla Raid

Deputy FM Ayalon says Israel must not apologize for killing 9 citizens during Gaza flotilla raid, as this would invite international lawsuits.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu lauded the "new era" that had begun in the country's diplomatic relations with Israel, enabled due to Turkey Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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 Prime Minister Recep Tayyip 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.

Turkey’s Ahmet Davutoglu, AP

Turkey heeded Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's call for international assistance to control the Carmel forest fire last week, and offered to send Israel two firefighting aircrafts.

Turkey-Israel relations have deteriorated in recent years and reached a low point last May when nine Turkish citizens were killed as Israeli naval commandos boarded a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Following Turkey's decision to send aid, Netanyahu launched an effort to end the diplomatic crisis with Ankara 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.

Davutoglu questioned that the talks in Geneva took place and said that "the news reports about those talks were totally speculative. Turkey's demands are clear and these demands were explained frankly by Prime Minister Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul on every possible occasion."

Davutoglu called on the international community to recognize Palestine and said peace cannot be achieved without recognition of the Palestinian state.

The first direct negotiations between the two sides in nearly two years collapsed over an Israeli refusal to freeze settlement construction when a previous 10-month freeze expired on September 26, shortly after the launch of new talks between Israel and the Palestinians.

Meanwhile, Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon said Friday that Israel should not apologize to Turkey for killing nine of its citizens aboard an aid ship that tried to breach the Gaza blockade, as this would invite international lawsuits.

Speaking after the former allies sent envoys to discuss rapprochement, Ayalon reiterated Israel's stance that its marines acted in self-defense while storming the Mavi Marmara in May. He placed the onus on Ankara.

"It is important we reach a solution, but the solution certainly depends on the good intentions, if there are such, on the Turkish side," Ayalon told Israel Radio.

"We must not apologize as there are both moral-diplomatic ramifications and legal ramifications that can really expose IDF soldiers to lawsuits, damages claims against Israel and the like."

Turkey calls the pro-Palestinian activists who were shot during deck brawls "martyrs", and has demanded a formal apology and compensation. Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that Israel must also stop blockading Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Israeli officials say the initial proposal made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy included an expression of "regret" over the incident and agreement in principle to compensate the bereaved Turkish families with one-off payouts.

In return, Israel wants the Turks to help indemnify its military against lawsuits in international forums, and to normalize ties with steps like a new exchange of ambassadors.

Davutoglu on Thursday signalled no change in his government's position, saying "the citing of (compensation) figures of the matter of regret did not come onto the agenda".

Ayalon answers to hawkish Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, junior partner in Netanyahu's governing coalition. Lieberman opposes placating Turkey and may try to block any rapprochement deal in the Israeli cabinet.

But Ayalon played down prospects of an imminent dispute. "I don't think he (Netanyahu) is coming with an official Israeli position right now, because it would not yet be the time to voice it. The contacts (with Turkey) are still ongoing intensively," he said.