Turkey's president says Israel acting irrationally

Tue Jul 6, 2010 6:07pm IST

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ABOARD THE TURKISH PRESIDENT'S AIRCRAFT (Reuters) - Turkey's President Abdullah Gul said on Tuesday that divisions within Israel's coalition were stopping the Jewish state repairing relations ruined by the storming of a Gaza-bound aid ship over a month ago.

Speaking to Reuters while returning from an official visit to Kazakhstan, Gul said Israel's apparent readiness to become more isolated by ditching relations with a country that had been its only Muslim ally was irrational.

"They don't have many friends in the region, " Gul said. "Now it seems they want to get rid of the relationship with Turkey."

The United States, a mutual ally of Israel and NATO-member Turkey, has quietly encouraged the two governments to overcome their differences.

But in comments as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared to meet President Barack Obama in the United States on Tuesday, Gul said that he believed bitter rivalries within the Israeli coalition were stopping a rapprochement.

"As far as I can see, the internal political strife in Israel is very harsh. They undermine each other... they always block one another," Gul said.

"It is important that everyone is aware of what kind of politics is going on there," Gul said. "My own impression is that they don't have the ability to act rationally."

Nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists were killed when Israeli marines stormed the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara in international waters on May 31, after which Turkey withdrew its ambassador, suspended joint military exercises and closed Turkish airspace to Israeli military planes.

APOLOGY

Turkey has demanded an apology, compensation for victims' families and an international inquiry into the incident. It doubts the impartiality of an Israeli inquiry begun last month.

Turkey also led calls for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu warned on Monday that Turkey would not wait forever and without going into specifics he said Turkey would cut off ties if Israel failed to start making amends.

Should the Israeli commission rule that the raid was indeed unfair and the Israeli government apologised in line with those findings, Turkey could be satisfied, Davutoglu added.

Israel maintains the marines fired in self defence after a boarding party was attacked by activists armed with metal clubs and knives.

Israel has partially relaxed its blockade of Gaza following the international outcry over the incident, but argues that a blockade is needed to choke off the supply of arms to Hamas Islamists running the enclave of 1.5 million people.

Gul said a meeting between ministers of the two governments in Brussels last Wednesday was requested by the Israeli side and was supposed to have been secret; but news of the talks was leaked by other factions in Netanyahu's cabinet who wanted to stop any progress.

"There were those who were not happy with this, and the situation remains frozen."

The meeting between Davutoglu and Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer had been the first face to face contacts between senior officials since the attack on the aid flotilla on May 31.

Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said he had not been informed of the meeting as a row broke out within the Israeli cabinet.

Netanyahu subsequently said that while his government regretted the loss of life and wanted to stop relations deteriorating further there would be no apology as the Israeli soldiers had acted in self-defence. Lieberman also ruled out an apology.

Although Turkey is heading towards an election a year away, and politics are highly charged, there has been cross-party support for the government's stance towards Israel.

(Editing by Ralph Boulton)

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