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MIDEAST >Israeli minister says Turkish PM Erdoğan blocking Mavi Marmara deal

JERUSALEM - Agence France-Presse

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Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz (R) attends the weekly cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (L), Feb 9. AP photo

Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz (R) attends the weekly cabinet meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and Cabinet Secretary Avichai Mandelblit (L), Feb 9. AP photo

A senior Israeli minister on Feb. 13 accused Turkey's prime minister of blocking a compensation deal for those killed in a 2010 raid on the Mavi Marmara 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 Erdoğan 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 Erdoğan's fault," Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz told public radio. "I don't understand Erdoğan's behaviour."

On Feb. 10, a Turkish official told AFP the sides were "close to an agreement," but the next day Erdoğan 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 U.S. 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 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.

February/13/2014

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