Turkey says Israel deal close over Gaza flotilla deaths

Pro-Palestinian activists attend a rally to mark the first anniversary of the Mavi Marmara Gaza flotilla incident in central Istanbul May 30, 2011. (Reuters)

Turkey hopes to soon close a difficult chapter with Israel sparked by a deadly commando raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of aid ships in 2010, Turkish foreign minister told AFP.

Nine pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed in the Israeli assault, sparking a major crisis between the long-time regional allies and compensation claims from the victims' families.

In the diplomatic tussle since, "the gap between the expectations of the two sides is closing," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.

"Progress has been made to a great extent, but the two sides need to meet again for a final agreement," he said.

Sticking points have been the amount of compensation and the legal status of the deal, but Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said earlier this week that an agreement would soon be signed.

He said that after Turkish local elections Sunday - seen as a major electoral test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan - "our first job will be making sure the compensation is bound by a legal document."

Davutoglu also said that "an answer is expected from the Israeli side" to Turkey's demands. "It is our preference, whether it will be before or after the elections... We do whatever is right at the right time."

Turkish senior diplomat Feridun Sinirlioglu was in Israel in February to discuss the terms of an agreement, aimed to normalise relations between the Jewish state and its once closest Muslim ally.

The May 2010 Israeli assault on the Turkish ship the Mavi Marmara in international waters en route to Gaza sparked widespread condemnation and provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador, demanded a formal apology and compensation, and an end to the blockade on the Gaza Strip - which is ruled by Hamas, a Palestinian militant group.

Talks on compensation began a year ago after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey in a breakthrough brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama.

In February, Erdogan said there would be no agreement without a written commitment by Israel to lift its restrictions on the Gaza Strip, a comment that led Israel to accuse him of blocking a compensation deal.

Turkey's foreign minister declined to comment on whether new ambassadors would likely be appointed as soon as an agreement is signed.

"What's important is to reach an agreement," Davutoglu said, speaking in his central home province of Konya. "The steps to be taken will be discussed when the agreement is made.

"I can say there's a positive momentum and a process in a positive direction."



Last Update: Wednesday, 20 May 2020 KSA 09:43 - GMT 06:43