Israel says sorry to Turkey for flotilla deaths

Barack Obama with Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. (AP Photo)

Israel has apologised to Turkey for killing nine of its citizens in a 2010 naval raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.

Both feuding US allies agreed to normalise relations in a surprise breakthrough announced by US President Barack Obama.

The rapprochement could help regional co-ordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war and ease Israel’s diplomatic isolation in the Middle East as it faces challenges posed by Iran.

In a statement released by the White House minutes before Obama ended a visit to Israel, the president said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart, Tayyip Erodgan, had spoken by telephone.

“The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said.

The first conversation between the two leaders since 2011, when Netanyahu phoned to offer help after an earthquake struck Turkey, gave Obama a diplomatic triumph in a visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories in which he offered no new plan to revive peace talks stalled for three years.

The 30-minute call was made in a runway trailer at Tel Aviv airport, where Obama and Netanyahu huddled before the president boarded Air Force One for a flight to Jordan.

Israel bowed to a long- standing demand by Ankara, once a close strategic partner, to apologise formally for the deaths aboard the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, which was boarded by Israeli marines who intercepted a flotilla challenging Israel’s naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip.

“Prime Minister Netan-yahu expressed an apology to the Turkish people for any error that may have led to the loss of life, and agreed to complete the agreement for compensation,” an Israeli statement said.

Netanyahu and Erdogan “agreed to restore normalisation between the two countries, including returning their ambassadors [to their posts],” the statement added.

A US official said: “Erdogan accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey.”

Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military co-operation after a UN report into the Mavi Marmara incident, released in Sept 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state.

Israel balked at apologising to the Turks, saying this would be tantamount to admitting culpability.


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