ANKARA (Reuters) – Turkey will cut ties with Israel unless it receives an apology over a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza, the Turkish foreign minister said, but Israel on Monday said it had no intention of doing so.
It was the first time Ankara has explicitly threatened to cut ties with Israel, having previously said it was reviewing relations with the Jewish state.
The public exchange between the two once close U.S. regional allies followed talks last week by Turkish and Israeli officials aimed at mending fences. Instead, their positions appeared to have hardened.
“Israel has three paths ahead: It either apologizes, or accepts the findings from an international commission investigating the raid, or Turkey will cut off ties,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told Monday’s edition of Hurriyet newspaper.
Once Israel’s closest Muslim ally, Turkey has said several times it wants Israel to apologize over the May 31 raid, pay compensation, agree to a U.N. inquiry into the incident and lift the blockade of 1.6 million Palestinians living in Gaza Strip.
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said his country has no intention of apologizing.
“We don’t have any intention to apologize. We think that the opposite is true,” he told reporters during a visit to Latvia.
Davutoglu met Israel’s Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer last week in Brussels in a bid to repair ties. Turkey said then it conveyed its demands to Israel but Davutoglu told Hurriyet: “We will not wait forever for an answer.”
“It will be enough if their own commission rules that the raid was unfair and they apologize in line with the commission’s verdict, but we have to see the verdict first,” Davutoglu said.
Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish-flagged ship Mavi Marmara as part of an operation to stop a relief aid flotilla headed for Israeli-blockaded Gaza.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel, canceled joint military operations and barred Israeli military aircraft from Turkish airspace after the incident.
U.S. WANTS ALLIES TO PATCH UP DISPUTE
The United States wants Israel and Turkey, whose earlier friendship had benefited U.S. policy in the Middle East, to patch up the dispute. President Barack Obama is due to meet Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington on Tuesday.
Israel said its commandos opened fire only after a boarding party was attacked by activists wielding clubs and knives.
Israel says the Gaza blockade is needed to choke off the supply of arms to Hamas Islamists who rule the enclave.
Relations between Israel and Turkey have been on a downward spiral since Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan spoke out forcefully against an Israeli offensive in Gaza at the end of 2008.
The two had forged a friendship in the 1990s based on military cooperation and intelligence sharing.
Turkey has improved relations with neighbors such as Iran and Syria in recent years and Erdogan became a popular figure among Muslim countries for championing the Palestinian cause.
Lieberman said Israel had concerns about Turkey’s foreign policy, including Ankara’s decision to vote against a new round of U.N. sanctions against Iran over Tehran’s nuclear program.
Non-permanent members Turkey and Brazil, which had agreed with Iran to a nuclear fuel swap deal, were the only countries in the 15-member council to vote against the resolution.
“We really see some real dramatic changes in their policy. But it’s their right, it’s their decision.”