Turkey to pressure Israel over Gaza at talks

Mon Jun 7, 2010 2:59pm IST

* Turkey says Israel policies on Palestinians "intolerable"

* Ahmadinejad, Abbas, Putin, Assad at summit

By Simon Cameron-Moore

ISTANBUL, June 7 (Reuters) - Turkey was expected to call at a summit that opened on Monday for international punishment of Israel for a bloody raid on a Turkish aid ship and push for the lifting of its blockade on Gaza.

Leaders from Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are attending the Eurasian and Middle East summit, but Israel is sending a diplomat from its consulate rather than expose a more senior figure to the fury over last week's killings.

Speaking ahead of the talks which include key enemies of Israel, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Ankara could no longer tolerate the policies of Israel, its once close ally, towards the Palestinians.

"Turkey was one of the first countries recognising Israel," Davutoglu told CNN on Sunday.

"But now we cannot tolerate the policies of tension, the policies of blockade against Gaza, the policies of punishment ... and the policy of attacking civilians in international sea, international waters. That, we cannot tolerate."

While the forum, called the Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), aims to dampen threats of regional conflict, Israel's storming of the ship and the plight of Palestinians are likely to dominate the summit.

Nine Turks were killed on Monday in the Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a six-vessel convoy that set out to challenge the blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Israel has said its troops used lethal force in self-defence after they were set upon by pro-Palestinian activists wielding clubs and knives, but leaders of the Ankara government and the Turkish public were infuriated by the killings.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Israel must be punished and that "nothing would ever be the same" between the two nations, accusing Israel of breaking the biblical commandment "thou shalt not kill". Israel rejected on Sunday a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban ki-Moon for an international investigation into the raid on the Gaza-bound ship and said it had the right to launch its own inquiry.

TURKEY ON WORLD STAGE

Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member and a candidate to join the European Union, has sought to raise its international profile in recent years, mediating in conflicts from Afghanistan/Pakistan ties to Iran's nuclear programme.

Critics say Erdogan's government, which has a hard core of support among religious conservatives but strong backing in the broader population, risks tilting too far towards stronger ties with Middle East governments the West does not trust.

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map", and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are among eight presidents at the talks, which kicked off on Monday ahead of Tuesday's full summit.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, though not a member, is attending as a guest.

Afghan President Hamid Karzai was expected to meet Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi on Monday in a trilateral spearheaded by Turkey to build confidence between two deeply suspicious neighbours who are fighting Taliban militants.

The diplomatic momentum will continue on Wednesday, as Arab League foreign ministers gather in Istanbul for the Turkish-Arab Cooperation Forum.

Turkey, with Brazil's help, brokered an accord with Iran last month for a nuclear fuel swap, in the hope of heading off sanctions against a fellow Muslim neighbour, major trading partner and key supplier of gas.

There will be an inevitable focus on any exchanges between Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Ahmadinejad, after the Iranian leader sharply criticised the Kremlin for supporting a draft sanctions resolution.

China will be represented at the Istanbul summit by State Councillor Dai Bingguo, a high-ranking foreign policy official, while India is sending a trade minister. (Additional reporting by Ibon Villelabeitia. Editing by Peter Millership)

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