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Turkey threat of warships to Gaza ‘grave’: Israel

* Senior minister says Israel had ‘no wish to add to polemic’

* Turkish lawyer submits list of Israeli flotilla raiders

JERUSALEM: A top Israeli minister on Friday described as “grave and serious” a threat by Ankara to send warships to escort any aid vessels trying to reach the Gaza Strip in defiance of Israel’s naval blockade.

Israel and Turkey have been locked in a bitter dispute since May 2010 when Israeli naval forces stormed the Freedom Flotilla, a convoy of six international aid ships trying to reach Gaza, killing nine Turkish nationals.

The crisis deepened over the past week, with Turkey expelling the Israeli ambassador and axing military ties and defence trade.

On Thursday night, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed that Turkish warships would escort any aid ships trying to reach the Palestinian enclave. “These remarks are grave and serious,” senior cabinet minister Dan Meridor told army radio, while indicating that Israel had “no wish to add to the polemic.” “It is better to stay quiet and wait — we have no interest in aggravating the situation by replying to such (verbal) attacks,” said Meridor, who is also minister of intelligence and atomic affairs.

Speaking to Al Jazeera television in Turkish, Erdogan said Ankara would dispatch warships to protect any Turkish aid ships seeking to reach Gaza in defiance of the Israeli blockade. “Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip,” he said in remarks which were translated into Arabic. “From now on, we will no longer allow these boats to be the targets of attacks by Israel, like the one on the Freedom Flotilla, because then Israel will have to deal with an appropriate response,” he warned.

A senior Israeli official, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, called Erdogan’s remarks “a very grave provocation,” although he said it was unlikely that he would actually make good on his threats. “It is very difficult to imagine that Turkey would go so far as to take such action, given its commitments to NATO,” he said. Meridor also said that Ankara “would be violating international law” if it tried to break the naval blockade by force, which a UN report into the flotilla incident declared to be legal.

But it also said Israeli troops had used “excessive and unreasonable” force in stopping the boats, and described the loss of life as unacceptable. Hours after the report was published, Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military ties, while on Tuesday it also cut defence-related trade in protest over Israel’s refusal to apologise.

Meanwhile, a lawyer for a Turkish Islamic group said Friday he had submitted to prosecutors a list of Israeli soldiers involved in a deadly raid on a flotilla sent by the group to break the Gaza blockade. “We have presented a list of Israeli soldiers who gave the order for and who were involved in the attack on the Turkish flotilla to the Istanbul prosecutor’s office,” Ramazan Ariturk, the lawyer for the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) which organized the ill-fated flotilla, told AFP.

“Currently we are waiting for the prosecutor’s office to issue an order for arrest,” he said.

Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed when Israeli commandos boarded the flag ship of the six-boat flotilla on May 31 last year, to stop it from breaking Israel’s blockade on Gaza. afp

Leading News Resource of Pakistan

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