In a further escalation of an ongoing diplomatic row between Turkey and its former ally Israel, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has announced plans to deploy warships to escort humanitarian flotillas to the Gaza Strip.
"Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza," Erdogan said in an interview with the international broadcaster Al-Jazeera.
"From now on, we will not let these ships be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla."
In May 2010, Israeli special forces raided the Mavi Marmara aid vessel in a bid to enforce its blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish-American in the process.
A United Nations inquiry into the incident recently criticized the Israeli raid as disproportional while judging the blockade itself to be legal. Israel says the blockade is necessary to prevent arms from reaching the Islamist group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.
Friend to foe
Last week, Turkey suspended its once close military ties with Israel and expelled the Israeli ambassador over the UN report. Ankara has demanded an apology from Israel, compensation for the victims and an end to the blockade.
Erdogan also accused Israel of trying to control natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean and vowed to take countermeasures in response.
Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, said the two countries had common interests and would ultimately find a way out of the current row.
"Ultimately this wave will pass," Barak told Israel Radio. "We recognize reality. They recognize reality. We are the two countries that are most important to the West in the region… I am certain we can overcome these [disagreements]."
Erdogan, however, insisted that Israel meet Ankara's demands before relations can improve.
"A normalization or improvement in Turkey-Israel relationships shouldn't be expected unless they apologize, pay a compensation and lift the embargo on Gaza," Erdogan said.
Author: Spencer Kimball (AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Martin Kuebler