Turkey FM: We Can't Stop Upcoming Aid Flotilla to Gaza

On the one year anniversary of Israel's deadly raid on an aid flotilla to Gaza, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu says democratic governments have no right to stop people from challenging an illegal blockade.

Democratic governments cannot stop their citizens launching another aid flotilla to Gaza, Turkey's foreign minister said on Monday, a year after the storming of an aid ship by Israeli marines.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged governments on Friday to discourage the activists from launching a second Gaza flotilla, but Ahmet Davutoglu said democratic governments had no right to stop their people from challenging an illegal blockade.

"No democratic country can think that they have full control over these NGOs (non-government organizations)," he said.

The Israeli action against last year's aid flotilla created a diplomatic storm and damaged Israel's relations with Turkey.

Davutoglu said in an interview that warnings about a second international Gaza flotilla should be directed at Israel, which needed to recognize the changing realities in the Middle East.

"Nobody should expect from Turkey and from other (UN) member states to forget that nine civilians were killed last year," Davutoglu told Reuters at his residence in the southern central city of Konya, where he is campaigning for election in a parliamentary poll due on June 12.

"Therefore we are sending a clear message to all those concerned. The same tragedy should not be repeated again."

Pro-Palestinian charities and activists are organizing a second aid flotilla to try to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza next month, to mark the anniversary of the first attempt.

Davutoglu repeated Turkey's demands that Israel should end its blockade of the 1.5 million people living in the Hamas-controlled enclave and apologize and pay compensation for the killing of the nine Turks, one of whom was a U.S. citizen.

Israeli marines shot them dead on the Mavi Marmara, the lead vessel in a six-strong flotilla, on May 31 last year, after an initial Israeli boarding party was overpowered by activists wielding metal bars and knives.

Davutoglu said the international community had failed to bring Israel to account despite a UN Human Rights Council report that declared Israel's actions unlawful after an investigation boycotted by Israel.

"What is the result? Do we think that one member state is beyond international law?" Davutoglu said.

Turkey's friendship with Israel withered after Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan condemned an Israeli offensive launched in Gaza in December 2008, and relations went into deep freeze after the Mavi Marmara incident.

"Israel must accept the (need for an) apology and compensation if they want to be a partner in this region," Davutoglu said.

He said Israel should recognize the changing landscape of the Middle East by ending the blockade, which it justifies by the need to prevent arms from reaching Hamas.

He said Egypt's decision on Sunday to relax travel for Palestinians through the Rafah Crossing, Gaza's only door to the outside world not controlled by Israel, further obviated the reason for the blockade.

Mavi Marmara - AP - Dec. 26, 2010

While Davutoglu's wrath was saved for Israel, Turkey is increasingly concerned by the civil unrest in friend and neighbor Syria, where Ankara vies for influence with Iran.

More than 1,000 people have been killed in a crackdown by President Bashar Assad's security forces since pro-democracy protests broke out in Syria in March.

NATO-member Turkey has called repeatedly for an end to the violence, but uses tempered language in dealing with Syria.

"We will continue to work very hard in order to make possible the political transformation in Syria," Davutoglu said.

He said his government was not involved with a gathering of Syrian opposition groups in the southern Turkish city of Antalya this week, and he had only learnt of it in the media.

Erdogan, who has urged Assad to make reforms since the "Arab Spring" began, received another assurance when the two leaders spoke by telephone on Friday, Davutoglu said.

"It is clear that the political will has been reconfirmed," Davutoglu said. "But we will see what will be the action. This is more important."