Agence France-Presse and Times of Israel & ABC News & The Guardian – 2014-02-05 01:35:53
Israel Offers $20 Million to Turkish Flotilla Victims
Report cites diplomatic sources saying Turkey has not yet responded to offer intended to restore relations between the former allies
Agence France-Presse and Times of Israel Staff
TEL AVIV (February 3, 2014) — Israel has reportedly offered Turkey $20 million in compensation to the families of those killed and wounded in its 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla.
Citing unnamed Western diplomats briefed on the ongoing negotiations with Ankara, the Haaretz daily reported on Monday that Turkey had yet to respond to the Israeli offer.
Once-close relations between the two nations fell apart under the rule of the Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) in Ankara. With tensions already strained, in May 2010, Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals when they came under attack during a pre-dawn raid to take control of the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.
The incident provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the former regional allies, with Ankara demanding a formal apology, compensation for the families of the victims and an end to the blockade of Gaza.
Talks finally began in March 2013 after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey to get relations back on track following top-level intervention by US President Barack Obama.
The talks stalled for several months but were revived in December when Israeli negotiators traveled to Istanbul and Turkey lowered its demands for compensation, Haaretz reported.
Western diplomats quoted by the paper said Ankara had demanded $30 million, but Israel was initially willing to give only $15 million.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu later decided to up Israel’s offer to $20 million, with an extra $3 million available “if necessary to secure an agreement,” the paper said.
The funds will not be paid directly to the families of the dead and wounded, but will be deposited in a humanitarian fund and distributed to them in accordance with defined criteria, it said.
Netanyahu’s office refused to comment on the report.
American, 19, Among Gaza Flotilla Dead
Furkan Dogan Was Shot Five Times, Including Four Times in Head
Zoe Magee / ABC News
(June 3, 2010) — A US citizen who lived in Turkey is among the nine people killed when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship heading for the Gaza Strip, officials said today. The victim was identified as Furkan Dogan, 19, a Turkish-American. A forensic report said he was shot at close range, with four bullets in his head and one in his chest, according to the ANATOlian news agency.
Dogan was a high school student studying social sciences in the town of Kayseri in central Turkey. He was born in Troy, NY, and moved to Turkey at the age of 2. He will be buried in his hometown tomorrow.
Dogan’s body was returned to Turkey today along with eight others, all Turkish nationals, who were on board the Mavi Marmara.
The ship was sponsored by a Turkish charity, the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH) and was carrying aid to Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade. The charity released the names of all nine dead. All are male and the ages range from 32 to 61.
The Mavi Marmara formed part of a flotilla that was organized by the Free Gaza movement and intended to break the three-year Israeli blockade on the embattled Palestinian enclave.
Israeli commandos rappelled onto the decks of the six ships Monday, but on the Mavi Marmara the passengers battled the soldiers with metal rods, wrested weapons from soldiers and, according to the Israeli military, fired on them. Nine people died and more than 30 were wounded, including several Israeli troops.
The activists on board the ship told a very different version of events from the one released by the Israeli military.
A Canadian on board, Farooq Burney, described watching an elderly man bleed to death. The head of a Turkish charity that organized the aid flotilla said an Indonesian doctor was shot in the stomach and a photographer was shot in the forehead.
Flotilla Passengers Dispute
Israeli Version of Flotilla Raid
“They [Israeli commandos] were trying to land on the boat. So obviously there was this hand-to-hand combat and during that process the people on the boat were basically able to disarm some of the soldiers because they did have guns with them,” Burney told Reuters. “So they basically took the guns away from them and took the cartridges out and threw them away.”
Asked if anyone had used the guns against the Israeli commandos, Burney said, “No, not at all.”
“Yes, we took their guns. It would be self defence even if we fired their guns,” Bulent Yildirim, chairman of the IHH, said.
“We told our friends on board we will die, become martyrs, but never let us be shown… as the ones who used guns,” he said, adding that people shouted that the weapons should not be used.
“By this decision, our friends accepted death, and we threw all the guns we took from them into the sea,” Yildirim said.
Thousands of mourners flocked to the funeral held for the Turkish activists today in Istanbul. Coffins of most of those killed, draped in Turkish and Palestinian flags, were brought to Istanbul’s Fatih Mosque for the service before the bodies were taken to their home towns for burial.
“Turkey will never forget such an attack on its ships and its people in international waters. Turkey’s ties with Israel will never be the same again,” Turkish President Abdullah Gul told a news conference. “Israel made one of the greatest mistakes in its history. It will see in time what a huge mistake it made,” he said.
Equally harsh words are being used by the Israelis.
The alliance is dead, a senior official in Jerusalem said Tuesday night, according to Israeli newspaper Yediot Aharonot. “The Turks are right about one thing: Irreversible harm has been caused to the relations. In the situation that has been created, Turkey will no longer be a strategic ally of Israel.”
Israel and Turkey face many challenges in which both have strong mutual interests, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Andy David said. “Hopefully, we’ll overcome the shadows that we see today,” he told ABC News.
Israel’s Next Test:
The Rachel Corrie Due in the Area Friday
Meanwhile, Israel is preparing for a new ship to run the blockade, the Irish ship MV Rachel Corrie, due to arrive in the area Friday.
“The Rachel Corrie will not be allowed into Gaza,” David said. “We are watching it and waiting to see what will happen. Hopefully, the people on board will direct to the port in Ashdod. “The naval blockade is still in effect and the ship will not be allowed to enter into the naval blockade area.”
Former UN assistant secretary general Denis Halliday, who is on board the Rachel Corrie, told ABC News that they do not intend to stop their mission or head to the Israeli port of Ashdod instead.
“It’s a totally unacceptable embargo. There’s no justification for it, there’s no legality for it, it’s not endorsed by the UN, it’s not endorsed by anybody else. It’s an Israeli military zone which is without legal status,” he said in a phone interview from the ship today.
The Rachel Corrie expects to be boarded by the Israelis Friday when they are approximately 80 miles off coast.
“When they tell they are about to board we will cooperate because it’s too dangerous not to do so, particularly as you say it may be at night which is the usual tactic. We’re not fools, we’re not about to throw away our lives.”
“We’re very upbeat and having seen the appalling consequences of Monday we’re more determined than ever to try and make this work,” Halliday said.
Reuters, ABC News’ Simon McGregor-Wood and Sara Sorcher contributed to this report.
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Netanyahu Apologises to Turkish PM
For Israeli Role in Gaza Flotilla Raid
Harriet Sherwood and Ewen MacAskill / The Guardian
JERUSALEM & WASHINGTON (Friday 22 March 22, 2013) — Barack Obama has persuaded Israel to apologise to Turkey for the loss of nine lives on board the Mavi Marmara — the lead ship in an aid flotilla trying to breach the blockade of Gaza — in a deal that paves the way for diplomatic relations to be restored between the two countries.
News of the US-brokered deal came on Friday as Obama was leaving Israel at the end of his first official visit during which he was praised for an emotional speech tailored to mainstream Jewish opinion but criticised for doing nothing practical to advance stalled peace negotiations and downplaying Palestinian suffering.
The apology to Turkey for the May 2010 incident had been resisted by Israel until now, despite pressure from the international community. Both are close US allies — Turkey is a member of NATO — so the president was well placed to broker the deal.
According to White House officials aboard Air Force One, Israeli prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu placed a call to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan while closeted with Obama in a trailer on the tarmac at Ben Gurion airport in the last minutes before the president’s departure for Jordan. Obama joined the call at one point.
The Israeli prime minister’s office said Netanyahu “apologised to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to the loss of life”. Erdogan accepted the apology, White House officials said.
This was the “first step” towards normalisation of relations between the two countries, US officials said, and had been the subject of talks between Obama and Netanyahu in Jerusalem this week.
Arriving in the Jordanian capital Amman Obama went into talks with King Abdullah II on the escalating crisis in neighbouring Syria as well as the prospects for reviving Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.
On the Israeli-Turkish deal the president said the “the timing was good” to restore the ruptured relationship, though it was “a work in progress”.
A statement from Netanyahu’s office said: “The two men agreed to restore normalisation between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against IDF soldiers.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu … expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral relations and noted his commitment to working out the disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability.”
It added: “The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional, and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life. In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Netanyahu apologised to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation.”
A statement released in Obama’s name on Friday afternoon said: “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.
“I am hopeful that today’s exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper co-operation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities.”
The US has been deeply concerned about the deterioration in relations between its two key allies in the region since the flotilla debacle. Nine Turkish activists were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara in an operation to prevent it and other ships in the flotilla from reaching Gaza. The bloody confrontation was met with a wave of international condemnation, and Israel was forced to ease its stringent blockade of the tiny Palestinian enclave.
Turkey cut all diplomatic ties with Israel following the incident, and demanded that the Gaza blockade be lifted before normal relations would be restored. In Gaza, which has been ruled by the Islamist movement Hamas for almost six years, Turkey was hailed as a champion of Palestinian rights.
Reconciliation talks ran into trouble recently when Erdogan called Zionism a “crime against humanity” and compared it to fascism. But on Friday, a senior US official, briefing journalists on the flight from Tel Aviv to Amman, said brokering the deal become possible after Erdogan backtracked on those comments.
In an interview with a Danish paper this week, Erdogan did not retract his words but said they had been misinterpreted.
Netanyahu told Erdogan “he had seen his interview in a Danish newspaper and that he, Netanyahu, appreciated those comments”, the US official said.
Asked if Obama had brokered the deal, the official said: “I think it would be accurate to say the president has been making this point to both leaders for going on a couple years now. So I think it’s well known by both Turkey and Israel the importance we place on seeing these two close friends of ours have normalised relations.”
He added: “No one is claiming that this resolves every potential difference between Israel and Turkey. I think we said, and I think they would tell you, this was an important step because one of the key things that had been dividing them was their strong differences over the Mavi Mara incident and Turkey’s desire for an apology and compensation.”
Israel will now move ahead on existing plans to pay up to Â£4 million ($6.1 million) in compensation to the dead activists’ families.
The deal to end the rift allows Obama to claim a significant diplomatic victory from his first trip as president to Israel. While his speech to Israeli students on Thursday was widely praised, he risked accusations that he had achieved nothing of substance. There was no new plan to kickstart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, little movement on how to deal with Iran’s nuclear programme and nothing concrete on Syria.
But the end of the Israeli-Turkish standoff is progress. With so much turmoil and uncertainty in the region, the US wants to be able to count on Turkey and Israel working in tandem.
The rift created problems beyond just the symbolism. Turkey, as a member of NATO, was able to block Israeli participation in proposed multilateral exercises. The US, which backs Turkey’s bid for membership of the European Union, sees it as an important player in Syria. NATO helped beef up military defences along the border last year.
Before flying to Jordan, Obama visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem. In the afternoon he crossed the pre-1967 “green line” to visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. A desert storm forced him to abandon the presidential helicopter and instead travel by road, passing through the eight-metre-high concrete wall that cuts off the West Bank city from Jerusalem.
Obama’s first visit to the Holy Land since becoming president appeared to have succeeded in its main aim of reassuring Israel of the “unbreakable alliance” with the US and recalibrating the hitherto frosty relationship between its leaders. Palestinians remained deeply sceptical about his ability to force real change.
John Kerry, the US secretary of state, is to explore renewing the talks. “We’ll keep plugging away,” Obama said in Amman. “We’ll see if we can make it happen.”
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