Erdogan: No closer Israel ties without 'Marmara' apology

Official in J'lem says Netanyahu told Clinton Israel won't apologize to Ankara; Lieberman: I'm sorry we didn't decide against apology earlier.

Tayyip Erdogan 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Tayyip Erdogan 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Wednesday it would be impossible for Turkish-Israeli ties to improve unless Jerusalem apologized and paid compensation for the killing of nine Turks aboard the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara last year.Earlier Wednesday, an official in Jerusalem said Israel will stick to its refusal to apologize to Turkey, dampening any prospects for reconciliation between the former allies.
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The decision, which the official said Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu conveyed to US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a telephone call, was made days before the publication of the findings of a UN inquiry into the seizure of the Mavi Marmara last year.Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Wednesday said he regrets that Israel didn't decide against apologizing to Turkey earlier.
Referencing Turkey's demand that Israel apologize for the deaths of nine Turkish nationals last year aboard the Mavi Marmara, Lieberman told Channel 2, "I'm sorry that the decision wasn't taken earlier."
"It made us look indecisive and it also gave false hope to some of our friends," he explained.
Asked what would happen next in the Marmara affair, Lieberman said, "I think now the Palmer report will be published."
The so-called Palmer report was repeatedly delayed to allow for Israeli-Turkish rapprochement talks amid concern in Washington at the rift between two countries that had been strategic partners in an increasingly stormy Middle East.
Officials, citing advance copies of the report, have said it would vindicate Israel's blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Turkey, which like Israel had a delegate on the UN panel headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, has said it would not accept such a finding.
The Mavi Marmara was part of an activist flotilla bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza when it was boarded by Israeli marines on the Mediterranean high seas on May 31, 2010. The marines shot dead nine Turks, including a dual US citizen, during fierce deck brawls.
Netanyahu voiced regret over the killings. But Turkey insisted on a formal apology and compensation for those bereaved and injured, which Israel initially rejected as tantamount to admitting culpability for an action it deems self-defense.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, a centrist in Netanyahu's conservative coalition government, has since stirred debate inside the cabinet by proposing Israel offer a diluted apology in hope of restoring ties with what was once a rare Muslim ally of the Jewish state.
"We're firm on not apologizing," the official said.
Asked if Israel might change tack after the Palmer report's publication, the official said: "Why would we do that? We know the report supports our position."
Kurt Hoyer, spokesman for the US embassy, said Washington wanted Israel and Turkey "to look for opportunities to get past the current strains in their bilateral relations." He would not comment on the conversation the Israeli official said had taken place on Tuesday between Netanyahu and Clinton.
In arguing for accommodating the Turks, Barak had said this would help indemnify Israel's navy personnel against lawsuits abroad. The Palmer report would contain some criticism of Israeli tactics aboard the Mavi Marmara, Barak said.
His most vocal opponent in the cabinet was Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who noted that Ankara's Islamist-rooted government also demands an end to the Gaza blockade.
Israel calls the measure a precaution against arms reaching Hamas and other Palestinian guerrillas by sea. Palestinians and their supporters describe the blockade as illegal collective punishment.
The United Nations has said it expects to release the Palmer report this month. Officials gave August 22 as the publication date.