- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 7, 2011

Estranged allies Israel and Turkey are working to mend ties before the release of a U.N. report on Israel’s deadly May 31, 2010, raid on a Turkish-flagged ship seeking to run its naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

The U.N. reportedly agreed Thursday to postpone the report’s publication until July 27 to give the sides time to resolve differences.

A spokesman for U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who initiated the probe, would not confirm the delay, saying Mr. Ban has yet to receive the report and expects it “in the coming days.”

Israel has refused Turkish demands that it apologize for killing nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists, saying its commandos acted in self-defense.

Turkey, which suspended longstanding military and intelligence cooperation with Israel and withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv after the incident, has made an apology a condition of normalizing relations.

But the report’s forthcoming publication has lent urgency to rapprochement efforts.

The document reportedly will deem Israel’s blockade legal and determine that Israeli forces acted lawfully, if disproportionately, when they intercepted the six-ship “Freedom Flotilla.” It is expected to criticize Turkey’s support for the seaborne provocation, while saying that Turkey’s inquiry into the incident was less professional than Israel‘s.

In talks between the two nations in New York, Israel has said it would agree to a softening of the report’s criticism in return for normalization of relations, which has assumed new importance for the Jewish state since Egypt’s Israel-friendly president, Hosni Mubarak, was ousted.

“We were looking for the [report] to sort of be the ladder where everyone could climb down,” said a Jerusalem-based Israeli diplomatic official familiar with the talks. “It’s in everyone’s interest to have our relationship with Turkey back on an even keel.”

The official said Turkey is still “not prepared for anything but a fairly unequivocal apology,” though he said divisions had emerged in Ankara, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan adopting a conciliatory attitude.

The international outcry that followed the flotilla bloodshed led Israel to relax its Gaza blockade, which it imposed in 2007 after the Islamist group Hamas seized power.

But pro-Palestinian activists have called for launching a second flotilla.

Greece, with whom Israel has developed close ties since the rift with Turkey, has prevented several of the new flotilla’s ships from leaving Greek ports, citing fears of more bloodshed.

Huwaida Arraf, chairwoman of the Free Gaza Movement, said several activists had left because of the delays.

“In the end, they’re not going to be able to hold our boats hostage forever, but it doesn’t make sense to keep our people here,” she said from Greece. “It’s more effective for them to go back home and campaign and share their experiences.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was in Bulgaria on Thursday, said the Jewish state is taking “necessary steps” to protect itself.

“It is possible to transfer everything into Gaza, just not arms and ammunition,” he said. “The number of missiles that have been transferred there in the last half year through tunnels can be brought in on one ship, and that can’t be allowed to happen.”

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