Erdogan: Too soon to drop case against IDF officers

Turkish PM says it is still too early to fully restore diplomatic ties with Israel, appoint new ambassadors.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311 (R) (photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan 311 (R)
(photo credit: REUTERS/Umit Bektas)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Saturday that despite Israel's apology over the IDF raid of the 2010 Gaza-bound flotilla, it is still too early to drop the case against IDF generals accused by Ankara of being responsible for the death of nine Turkish activists aboard the Mavi Marmara, Turkish newspaper Today's Zaman reported.
Erdogan said Netanyahu's apology satisfied Turkish expectations when he used the word "apology" instead of "regret," but that it was still too soon to fully restore diplomatic ties and appoint new ambassadors, Turkish daily Hurriyet reported.
“We will see what will be put into practice during the process. If they [Israel] move forward in a promising way, we will make our contribution. Then, there would be an exchange of ambassadors,” he said.
Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a UN report into the incident released in September 2011 largely exonerated Israel.
Erdogan also confirmed that he intends to visit Gaza and the West Bank next month. "I may eventually visit Gaza and the West Bank in April. This visit would take place in the context of a general effort to contribute to the resolution process [of the Palestinian issue]," he said.
In a dramatic development that occurred just as US President Barack Obama was leaving the country, Netanyahu spoke with Erdogan on Friday, voicing regret for the loss of life in the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, apologizing for any mistakes that led to the death of nine Turkish activists. Breaking a three-year deadlock, the two agreed to normalize relations.
"Prime Minister Netanyahu 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," a White House statement said.
The conversation was facilitated by Obama, taking place during his prolonged meeting with Netanyahu on Friday afternoon.
Today's Zaman quoted Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh as saying that Erdogan and Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal had arranged the Turkish prime minister's visit to Gaza in a phone conversation in which the Turkish leader had briefed Hamas on the apology from Netanyahu.
According to Haniyeh, Erdogan told Mashaal that Netanyahu had promised to "lift the siege on the Palestinian people."
While the White House statement released following the phone call did not say that Netanyahu would lift the siege of Gaza, it did state that the prime minister pointed out that Israel has already lifted some limitations including the passage of goods and people to Gaza, and that this will continue as long as quiet is preserved.
An official Hamas statement released Friday applauded Erdogan for having won the apology from Netanyahu.
Bulent Yildirim, mastermind behind the Gaza flotilla, expressed his pride over Netanyahu's formal apology to Turkey for the raid, Hurriyet reported on Friday.
Amidst Erdogan's expressed hope for renewed friendship and ties with Israel, Yildirim called for further resistence and was quoted by Hurriyet as saying, "the struggle will continue until the blockade is lifted."
The report notably included that Yildirim expressed his belief that the pending trial against former Israeli commanders involved in the raid would continue as planned, apology or no apology.
This belief contradicts reports that Turkey will drop the trial as a result of the reconciliatory conversation which took place between Netanyahu and Erdogan.
Erdogan has announced plans to visit Gaza on three separate occasions - in July and again in September of 2011, and most recently in December of 2012, eventually canceling the plans each time.
Herb Keinon and Reuters contributed to this report.