The expulsion of Israel's ambassador over an Israel Defense Forces raid of a Turkish aid flotilla is just one step in many possible measures taken against Israel if it persists in its refusal to apologize for the incident, Turkish President Abduallah Gul said on Friday.
Gul's comments came just hours after Turkish Foreign Minister announced the downscale of diplomatic relations with Jerusalem, saying the move was a direct response to Israel's refusal to apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals in the May 2010 raid.
The implications of the downgrade are that the level of diplomatic representation in both countries will be scaled back from ambassador to first secretary. This means Israel's ambassador to Turkey, Gabby Levy, and his deputy, Ella Afek, will be expelled.
A statement by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, published minutes following Davutoglu's press conference, indicated that Turkish and Israeli diplomats due to leave their respective posts as a result of the downgrade will do so by September 7.
Speaking to reporters in Istanbul later Friday, Gul said that Israel apparently "did not understand how determined Turkey was to show it has not forgotten the events of the past," adding that Turkey "would always defend our citizens' rights," saying that the "steps announced today were just the first phase."
"In accordance with Israel's stance, it is possible that more steps may come in the future," the Turkish president added, saying of the UN's Gaza flotilla report that "as far as we're concerned that reports doesn't exist."
Gul also said that Turkey had considered to sanction Israel for its refusal to apologize sooner, but instead waited since it wanted to "give some of our good-willed allies the opportunity to end the crisis."
The findings of a UN probe into Israel's deadly raid on a 2010 flotilla to Gaza known as the Palmer Commission Report, which were leaked to The New York Times Thursday, have further raised tensions between Israel and Turkey, and senior Foreign Ministry officials warned that Turkey could respond to the report's publication by expelling the Israeli ambassador and scaling back diplomatic relations.
"Israel squandered all of the opportunities to end the crisis, and now it must pay for it," Turkish FM Davutoglu said during his announcement earlier Friday, adding that Turkey's official position was that Israel's blockade on the Gaza Strip was illegal, despite the fact that the UN report supported its legality.
Hinting at the possible consequences of Turkey's disagreement with the UN's interpretation of Israel's blockade, the Turkish FM said that Ankara would "do whatever it takes to implement its interpretation of the significance of international waters in the Mediterranean."
"We cannot accept the blockade on Gaza. We cannot say that the blockade aligns with international law," he said, adding that the stance taken by the Palmer Commission Report was the author's "personal opinion, one which does not correspond with Turkey's position."
Additionally, Davutoglu announced the cancellation of all defense contracts between Israel and Turkey, adding that Ankara would both initiaite legal action against the Gaza blockade in international courts, as well as aid families of those killed in the Gaza flotilla raid in seeking litigation against Israel.
Warning of the possible consequences of Israel's refusal to apologize for the flotilla raid, Davutoglu said on Thursday that Friday's official release of the Palmer Report constituted Israel's last chance to apologize for its raid on the Turkish-sponsored flotilla and warned of consequences, including sanctions, should Israel continue to refuse to apologize.
Unless there is an Israeli apology, "we will put Plan B into play," Davutoglu said. He said Turkey intended to impose sanctions, "which both Israel and other international parties are aware of."
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