Middle East

Families reject Israeli-Turkish compensation talks

File picture shows an undated handout image taken from the Free Gaza Movement website on May 28, 2010 of the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara taking part in the "Freedom Flotilla" heading towards the Gaza Strip. AFP PHOTO / FREE GAZA MOVEMENT

ISTANBUL: Families of the victims of an Israeli raid on an aid flotilla on Saturday spoke out against compensation talks between Turkey and Israel, saying the Jewish state must first fully lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The relatives of the nine activists killed on board the Gaza-bound ship in 2010 also said they would not drop lawsuits filed against former Israeli military commanders they hold responsible.

The announcement comes days before an Israeli delegation is due in Turkey to discuss compensation for the victims and further complicates efforts by the United States to normalize ties between Turkey and Israel, two U.S. allies President Barack Obama regards as anchors of stability in an increasingly turbulent Middle East.

Last month, Obama help broker a rapprochement between the two during a visit to Israel. Israel apologized for the raid and agreed to compensate the injured and relatives of the dead, while Turkey was expected to withdraw legal action against Israeli soldiers. Despite accepting the apology and agreeing to the normalization of ties, Turkish leaders have since warned that the restoration of full diplomatic ties with Israel would be dependent on it ending all commercial restrictions against the Palestinians.

In a statement read on board the Mavi Marmara - the ship that was stormed by Israeli commandos and now anchored in Istanbul- the families said they oppose Turkey opening discussions with Israel until all restrictions on Palestinians are removed.

"While no steps have been taken to lift the severe restrictions or to amend the rights of the Palestinians who are oppressed, these meetings for compensation are an insult to our martyrs," said Cigdem Topcuoglu, widow of Cetin Topcuoglu. Talks to work out compensation payment were scheduled to begin on Monday.

The relatives vowed not to withdraw complaints filed against four Israeli military officials who are being tried in Turkey in absentia. Turkish prosecutors have demanded life in prison for the officers, although it is unlikely that any sentence could be carried out.

Eight Turks and one Turkish American were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara while stopping an international flotilla trying to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza, which is ruled by the Islamic militant group Hamas. The incident increase tensions between the former allies and the two withdrew ambassadors. Israel had previously refused to apologize, saying its soldiers had acted in self-defense after being attacked by activists.

Turkish leaders have presented the Israeli apology as a diplomatic triumph over Israel, and in an apparent bid to increase his leverage, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has pledged to visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza at the end of this month.





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