BEIRUT

Middle East

Israel minister says Turkey PM blocking flotilla deal

  • Palestinians inspect the scene of what witnesses said was hit by an Israeli air strike at Nusseirat in the centre of the Gaza Strip February 11, 2014. REUTERS/Ibraheem Abu Mustafa

OCCUPIED JERUSALEM: A senior Israeli minister on Thursday accused Turkey's prime minister of blocking a compensation deal for those killed in a 2010 raid on an aid flotilla by demanding Israel end the Gaza blockade.

Israel and Turkey have been locked in 11 months of talks over compensation for nine Turkish nationals killed in a deadly Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010, with officials on both sides recently confirming they were close to a deal.

But earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there would be no agreement without a written commitment by Israel to lift its restrictions on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group.

"I am in favour of an agreement with Turkey, but (the current impasse) is Erdogan's fault," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told public radio.

"I don't understand Erdogan's behaviour."

On Monday, a Turkish official told AFP the sides were "close to an agreement," but the next day Erdogan told reporters that a written "protocol" was necessary -- one which included an Israeli commitment to end the blockade.

A spokesman for the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to comment on the matter, but press reports said he rejected the idea out of hand.

"Erdogan mentions the Gaza issue every so often, but it was never a formal part of the talks," an Israeli official close to the negotiations told AFP.

"It is being dealt with in a separate channel, not as part of the diplomatic negotiations (on compensation)."

Once-close relations between Israel and Turkey fell apart after the 2010 raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to break the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza.

The assault provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the former regional allies, with Ankara demanding a formal apology, compensation for the families of the victims and an end to the blockade.

Talks finally began in March 2013 after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey to get relations back on track following a top-level intervention by US President Barack Obama.

At the time, Netanyahu's office said Israel and Turkey had "agreed to continue to work to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories."

Israel first imposed its blockade on Gaza in 2006 when militants there snatched an Israeli soldier. It tightened the restrictions when Hamas -- an Islamist movement sworn to Israel's destruction -- seized power a year later.

The blockade has since been eased following international pressure, although tight restrictions remain in place, primarily governing movement, exports and the import of construction materials.

 
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Summary

A senior Israeli minister on Thursday accused Turkey's prime minister of blocking a compensation deal for those killed in a 2010 raid on an aid flotilla by demanding Israel end the Gaza blockade.

Israel and Turkey have been locked in 11 months of talks over compensation for nine Turkish nationals killed in a deadly Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound flotilla in May 2010, with officials on both sides recently confirming they were close to a deal.

But earlier this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there would be no agreement without a written commitment by Israel to lift its restrictions on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group.


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