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'Israel must clear blood to mend ties'

world Updated: Dec 05, 2010 22:15 IST

AFP
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Turkey's prime minister insisted on Sunday on an Israeli apology and compensation over a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in May as the only way to mend bilateral ties, Anatolia news agency reported.



His remarks followed media speculation that the crisis between the one-time allies might thaw in the wake of Turkey's dispatch of two helicopters to help fight a devastating forest fire in northern Israel, which claimed 41 lives.



"Some say we should turn a new page... An apology must be offered first, compensation must be paid first," Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a speech in Sivas, central Turkey, according to Anatolia.



"If a hand is extended, we will not leave it in the air... but we want to see that this hand is extended with sincerity.



"No one should expect us to keep silent and forfeit law and justice as long as the blood spilled in the Mediterranean is not cleared," he said.



Erdogan, who heads a conservative government hailing from a banned Islamist movement, described Ankara's assistance for the fire-fighting effort in Israel as "our humanitarian and Islamic duty."



Bilateral ties plunged into a deep crisis on May 31 when Israeli forces killed nine Turks as they raided an activist ship carrying aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip in an international campaign led by a Turkish Islamist charity.



Relations had been already strained over Israel's devastating war on Gaza last year, amid Erdogan's frequent outbursts against the Jewish state and his defence of radical Palestinian group Hamas.



On Friday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanked Turkey for its help in the fire disaster and telephoned Erdogan to convey his gratitude.



"We very much appreciate this mobilisation and I am certain that it will be an opening toward improving relations between our two countries, Turkey and Israel," he said in a statement.



The lingering chill was highlighted only a day before when Turkey's interior minister said Israel seemed to be "benefitting" from the impact of US cables disclosed by the Internet whistle-blower WikiLeaks as he questioned whose interests the leaks served.



The cables revealed US and Israeli unease over Turkey's close contacts with Iran and Erdogan's criticism of Israel.



Erdogan "hates Israel" on religious grounds, a cable by the US embassy in Ankara said, including also the Israeli ambassador's description of Erdogan as "a fundamentalist."



Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a decade of close ties since 1996 when they signed a military cooperation agreement.