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Israel warmer to Turkey after flotilla withdrawal, says official

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 6/27/2011 12:00:00 AM | FULYA ÖZERKAN

Israel is responding warmly to Turkey after a Turkish ship dropped out of a Gaza flotilla. Meanwhile, a report says secret talks almost won an Israeli apology

Israel is behaving more warmly toward Turkey following a Turkish relief group’s decision to cancel its participation in an aid flotilla to Gaza, Turkish officials said Monday.

“Israel’s approach to mending fences with Turkey has never interrupted since the Mavi Marmara incident,” a senior Turkish Foreign Ministry diplomat told the Hürriyet Daily News.

A report published in daily Hürriyet on Monday revealed that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted Turkey’s request for an apology for the killing of Turkish citizens onboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010, but backed out on three separate occasions due to fear his coalition government might fall. The report cited information leaked from secret meetings between Ankara and Tel-Aviv.

“A number of contacts at the technical level took place but our position has never changed,” said the Turkish diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Turkey remains insistent on its demands for an apology and compensation after Israeli forces raided the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara ship, leaving eight Turks and one Turkish-American dead. The meetings were held in Geneva following a slight thaw in tensions between the two countries in the wake of Turkey’s decision to assist Israel in extinguishing forest fires in December.

The diplomat said Israel was giving warmer messages, particularly after the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or İHH, announced thatthe Mavi Marmara would not participate in this year’s attempt to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza “due to technical reasons.”

“None of the parties are content with the current state of the relationship between Turkey and Israel. Efforts are under way to repair the ties,” said another Turkish diplomat, when asked if another round of talks could take place between the two countries’ diplomats in the future.

The first gesture came from Netanyahu, who praised Turkish democracy in a verbal remark immediately after Turkey’s June 12 elections were held. The move was followed by Israeli Knesset members sending a letter to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, whose Justice and Development Party, or AKP, emerged as the winner of the elections.

Last week, Netanyahu sent a letter of congratulations to Erdoğan, urging the Turkish government to renew the relationship.

An opinion article entitled “Apologizing to Turkey is in Israel’s interest,” published in Israeli daily Haaretz on Monday, said that in the past year, and with greater intensity in recent weeks, people of goodwill from Israel and Turkey had been trying to rehabilitate relations between the two countries.

“This is exactly the right time to initiate a move – not put out feelers – vis-à-vis Turkey, and to pick up the shards. It would not be disastrous for Israel to apologize for killing Turkish citizens. An apology is not an admission of blame – all the more so when even in Israel there are differences of opinion on the wisdom of that military operation,” it read.

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