Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador, suspended military relations with Israel, and downgraded diplomatic ties with the Jewish state on Friday over its refusal to apologize for last year's Gaza flotilla raid, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.
“Turkey-Israel diplomatic relations have been reduced to a second secretary level. All personnel above the second secretary level will be sent home by Wednesday at the latest,” Davutoglu said during a news conference in Ankara.
Israel’s ambassador, Gabby Levy, was in Israel when the announcement was made and cancelled plans to return to Turkey.
In first Israeli response, a diplomatic source told AFP the Jewish state will not apologize for a deadly 2010 raid on a flotilla of aid ships, an Israeli diplomatic source said Friday after a UN report criticised the Jewish state for using excessive force.
“Israel once again expresses its regrets for the loss of human life but there will be no apology for this operation,” the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity said.
Immediately after the attack on the aid convoy last year, Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel, suspended joint military exercises, and barred Israeli military aircraft from Turkish airspace.
On Friday, Turkey went a step further by putting military pacts with its erstwhile ally on ice. “All military agreements have been suspended,” Davutoglu added.
Turkey’s move came after details emerged of a UN report on Israeli actions against the flotilla. The long-awaited UN report, made public on Thursday, declared that Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, but that the Jewish state used unreasonable force.
“Actually, the report is null and void for us,” Turkish President Abullah Gul said in televised remarks.
Davutoglu said some of the report’s findings were questionable and that Turkey did not recognize the legitimacy of the blockade of Gaza.
“Turkey will take all measures which it sees as necessary for freedom of navigation in the eastern Mediterranean,” Davutoglu said.
“Turkey does not recognize Israel’s blockade of Gaza. It will secure the study of this blockade at the International Court of Justice. We are beginning initiatives to get the UN General Assembly moving on this,” he added.
He also said support would be given to Turkish and foreign victims to seek justice from courts. One of the nine Turks killed was a US citizen.
The report, prepared by a panel headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, is expected to be formally handed to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon later on Friday and officially released then.
Einat Wilf, an Israeli lawmaker and member of the Knesset foreign affairs commission, told AFP the report “clearly exonerates Israel on the main issues regarding the legality of the blockade, the legality of stopping incoming ships in international waters and the existence of violence, resistance to the Israeli soldiers.”