Turkish official still pressing Israel for apology over flotilla raid

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The chief foreign policy adviser to Turkey’s prime minister on Thursday denied a report that said his country aims to normalize relations with Israel “across the board,” saying an Israeli newspaper mischaracterized his comments on the topic.

“Bottom line: Turkey’s position is the same, and no normalization will happen until and unless Turkey’s three conditions are met,” Ibrahim Kalin said in an e-mail to The Washington Times.

Turkey froze relations with Israel in May 2010 and has demanded that the Jewish state apologize for killing nine Turkish activists during a raid on a Gaza-bound ship last year, compensate the activists’ families and lift its blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz wrote Wednesday that “Turkey intends to normalize its relations with Israel across the board.” It also quoted Mr. Kalin as saying “from the return of the [Turkish] ambassador, the renewal of joint military maneuvers, military and civilian cooperation, ministerial visits, and to all other areas, relations will return to how they were before the flotilla incident.”

Mr. Kalin called the report false and said he has “asked for a correction.”

“The Ha’aretz piece has completely twisted what I said and put their words into my mouth,” he told The Times.

Israel has loosened its restrcitions on Gaza since the flotilla incident and agreed to compensation in principle, but it steadfastly refuses to apologize for the deaths, saying its commandos acted in self-defense after being attacked by the passengers.

In advance of the release of a U.N. report on the flotilla incident, Israeli and Turkish negotiators have been working on a deal that could end the diplomatic crisis, but the talks have yet to reach a breakthrough.

On Thursday, Israeli Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, who has been in the talks with Turkey, sounded a pessimistic note: “The stubbornness of the Turks cannot lead to reconciliation and I do not see any possibility to bridge the gap between the two sides.”

Meanwhile, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced his intention to visit the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Islamist militant group Hamas since 2007.

Israel set up the blockade to prevent weapons and other materials from reaching Hamas, which denies the Jewish state’s right to exist.

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About the Author

Ben Birnbaum

Ben Birnbaum is a reporter covering foreign affairs for The Washington Times. Prior to joining The Times, Birnbaum worked as a reporter-researcher at the New Republic. A Boston-area native, he graduated magna cum laude from Cornell University with a degree in government and psychology. He won multiple collegiate journalism awards for his articles and columns in the Cornell Daily Sun.

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