ANKARA, (AFP) – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged Israel to end the blockade of the Gaza Strip as he insisted on apology and compensation over a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in May.
A fierce critic of Israel, Erdogan spoke after Turkish and Israeli diplomats met for two days in Geneva in a bid to salvage bilateral ties, in deep crisis since the May 31 raid in which nine Turks were killed.
“If anyone wants to turn a new page, they must first admit their crime… apologise and pay compensation,” Erdogan said in a weekly speech in parliament.
“And we are also saying that the embargoes – which have been relaxed but that’s not enough – must be lifted,” he said.
“If we see these steps being taken, then we will evaluate the situation… We are not acting with feelings of grudge and hatred,” he added.
Erdogan has launched frequent verbal attacks on Israel since the Jewish state’s devastating war on Gaza last year and defended the radical Islamist group Hamas, which controls the impoverished Palestinian enclave.
Hopes for a thaw between the one-time allies emerged last week when Ankara sent two fire-fighting planes to battle a deadly forest fire in Israel and the country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, telephoned Erdogan to thank for the help.
Senior diplomats from the two countries met on Sunday and Monday in Geneva in an effort to mend fences.
No official statement was made after the talks and it was not immediately clear whether the meetings would continue.
The two sides are reportedly seeking a deal, under which Israel would apologise over the raid and compensate the families of victims, while Turkey would agree to send back its ambassador to Tel Aviv.
“If they are saying they want a friendly solution to the problem, we will not turn that down… But this will not change our expectations” from Israel, a Turkish diplomat, who asked not to be named, said.
The US cables disclosed by WikiLeaks revealed US and Israeli unease over Turkey’s close contacts with Iran and Erdogan’s criticism of Israel.
Erdogan, a former Islamist, “hates Israel” on religious grounds, one cable from Ankara said, including also the Israeli ambassador’s description of Erdogan as “a fundamentalist.”
In response to the flotilla raid, Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled joint military drills. It also twice denied permission to Israeli military aircraft to use its air space.
Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a decade of close ties since 1996 when they signed a military cooperation agreement.