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Ties with Israel hang by thread as Turks bury dead - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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A relative of a Turkish activist, who was killed when Israel seized a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, mourns next to his coffin during a funeral ceremony at Fatih mosque in Istanbul June 3, 2010 (REUTERS)

A relative of a Turkish activist, who was killed when Israel seized a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, mourns next to his coffin during a funeral ceremony at Fatih mosque in Istanbul June 3, 2010 (REUTERS)

ISTANBUL, (Reuters) – Palestinian and Hamas flags flew at the funeral of a Turkish activist on Friday, as Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said ties with Israel may be cut to a minimum after a raid on an aid ship bound for Gaza.

The father of Cevdet Kiliclar collapsed beside his son’s coffin as thousands knelt in prayer at Istanbul’s Beyazit Mosque to mourn the 38-year-old journalist who had been working for the Turkish Islamic charity that organised the aid flotilla.

A service was held a day earlier for eight other Turks shot when Israeli marines stormed the Mavi Marmara on Monday to stop a convoy of six ships trying to break a naval blockade of 1.5 million Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.

“We may plan to reduce our relations with Israel to a minimum,” Arinc told the NTV news channel in an interview. “But to assume everything involving another country is stopped in an instant, to say we have crossed you out of our address book, is not the custom of our state,” he said.

Addressing a news conference, Bulent Yildirim, the head of the Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief (IHH), denied that his charity had direct links to Hamas or ties to militants, describing it as Israeli “propaganda”. He said three people his charity had listed on Thursday as missing had been located, and were being treated for wounds in Ankara. He had no news on the whereabouts of a southeast Asian doctor who he said was shot while helping an Israeli soldier.

Relations between one-time friends Turkey and Israel have been on a downward spiral for some time, but the killing of Turks on a Turkish flagged vessel in international waters has brought them close to breaking point.

“People have shown an appropriate response but our government hasn’t yet,” said Nuri Dogan, a 19-year-old student among the mourners, adding he wanted a boycott of Israel.

Public anger over the Israeli actions taps both nationalist and Islamist sentiments in Turkey, and analysts expect Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to take a strong stand with a general election due by mid-2011.

Turkey, a moderate, secular country, recognised the Jewish state soon after its establishment in 1948 and in the 1990s it forged military and intelligence cooperation agreements with Israel, when both had hostile relations with Syria.

With Turkey a customer for Israeli arms, bilateral trade reached $2.5 billion in 2009. Projects worth several billion dollars are in the pipeline in water, energy and agriculture. However, since the Islamist-leaning AK Party came to power in 2002 Turkey, NATO’s only Muslim member, has sought better relations with Iran and Arab neighbours, notably Syria.

Friendship with Israel began wearing thin following an Israeli offensive in Gaza in late 2008.

After that, Erdogan became one of Israel’s most trenchant critics, and a series of diplomatic spats strained relations.

Ankara, which had supported the pro-Palestinian convoy, has already cancelled joint military exercises, recalled its ambassador to Israel and successfully called for an emergency U.N. Security Council to condemn the Israeli action.

The United States regards the two military heavyweights as crucial allies in the Middle East, and analysts expect Washington to try to stave off a final split.

Championing the Palestinian cause, Turkey is trying to gather international support to make Israel end its blockade.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with US Senator George Mitchell in Jerusalem on June 4, 2010 (AFP)

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) meets with US Senator George Mitchell in Jerusalem on June 4, 2010 (AFP)

Palestinians in fishing boats decorated with Turkish and Palestinian flags hold a pro-Turkey protest in the sea off the shore of Gaza City, June 3, 2010 (AP)

Palestinians in fishing boats decorated with Turkish and Palestinian flags hold a pro-Turkey protest in the sea off the shore of Gaza City, June 3, 2010 (AP)

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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