Obama Departs Israel |

Netanyahu Phones Erdogan to Apologize for Deaths of Turkish Citizens on Gaza Flotilla

Two leaders spoke for first time since 2009; agreed to normalize relations, return ambassadors to Tel Aviv and Ankara; Turkey agreed to cancel all legal proceedings initiated against IDF officers and soldiers over Mavi Marmara incident; Turkey FM: Apology meets all of Turkey's demands.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phoned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday and apologized over the deaths of nine Turkish citizens during the 2010 Israel Navy raid on the Gaza flotilla.

Erdogan accepted the apology during his conversation with Netanyahu. Erdogan's office later released a statement saying Turkey valued its "friendship" with Israel. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu also said on Friday that all of Turkey's fundamental demands had been met with Netanyahu's apology.

According to a report in Turkey's Hurriyet, Davutoglu also said that Erdogan called both Hamas Prime Minister in Gaza Ismail Haniyeh and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to get their approval before accepting the apology. The conversations took place just moments before Netanyahu's call, the report said.

Ties between Israel and Turkey deteriorated due to the May 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara vessel, which was on its way from Turkey to the Gaza Strip. The ship was part of a flotilla aimed at breaking through a blockade Israel had placed on the coastal territory.

During Friday's phone call, Netanyahu told Erdogan that an Israeli investigation into the incident revealed several operational errors made by IDF forces. Netanyahu "expressed his apologies to the Turkish people for any error that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete an agreement to provide compensation to the families of the victims," according to a statement by the Prime Minister's Office.

Netanyahu added that Israel had removed a number of restrictions upon the movement of citizens and goods in all the Palestinian territories, including the Gaza Strip, and would continue to do so as long as the security situation remained peaceful. The two leaders agreed to continue working to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.

Netanyahu "expressed regret for the deterioration in the relations between the two countries," according to the Prime Minister's Office. The prime minister also pledged to settle the differences in opinion between the two countries, with the aim of advancing peace and stability in the region. During the conversation, Netanyahu made it clear that "the tragic consequences of the Mavi Marmara flotilla were unintentional, and Israel regrets any injury or loss of life."

The Prime Minister's Office also said that Netanyahu and Erdogan agreed to normalize relations between the two countries, and to return the Turkish ambassador to Tel Aviv and the Turkish ambassador to Ankara. Erdogan announced that Turkey would cancel all the legal proceedings against IDF officers and soldiers that were opened in the wake of the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident.

The phone call was the first between the two leaders since Netanyahu assumed office in 2009. According to a U.S. official, it lasted around thirty minutes and took place in a tent at Ben Gurion airport a short while before U.S. President Barack Obama flew to Jordan. At one point, Obama came on the line and joined the conversation.

Obama released an official statement on Friday afternoon saying that he welcomed the call.

"The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security," the statement said.

"I am hopeful that today's exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities."

The conversation was made after efforts by Obama to mediate between the two countries, and took place during Obama's meeting with Netanyahu on Friday afternoon.

During their meeting, Obama asked Netanyahu to take steps towards mending the rift with Turkey. A White House official, who asked to remain unnamed, said that Obama raised the issue and stated that the U.S. wants to maintain strong relations both with Israel and Turkey.

Over the past few months, Israel and Turkey have been trying to reach an agreement over the wording of an apology, in an attempt to end the bilateral crisis. Just a few weeks ago, Turkey's Undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry Feridun Sinirlioğlu met in Rome with Israel's National Security Advisor Yaakov Amidror and envoy Joseph Ciechanover. But during this meeting the parties failed to reach a magic formula to bring the crisis to an end.

Part of the reason the reconciliation talks between Turkey and Israel encountered difficulties was because of Erdogan's inflammatory comments a few weeks ago. During a United Nations Conference in Vienna, Erdogan called Zionism a "crime against humanity," and compared it to fascism. Erdogan's comments caused great anger in both Jerusalem and Washington.

U.S. President Barack Obama, right, shaking hands with Turkey's Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan after a bilateral meeting in Seoul, March 25, 2012. Credit: Reuters

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