A day before the release of the anticipated official release of a UN report into last year’s raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla (photo, from bbcimg.co.uk), Turkey has expelled Israel’s ambassador and suspended military agreements between the countries, announced Ahmet Davutoglu, the Turkish foreign minister on Friday during a news conference.
He said it was “time Israel pays a price for its illegal actions.”
According to a copy of the UN report leaked to the New York Times, when they boarded an aid ship of the Turkish-led flotilla Israeli forces used excessive force.
On May 31, 2010, eight Turkish people and an American man of Turkish descent died when Israeli forces stormed the Mavi Marmara.
An Israeli government official told the BBC : “Israel, like any other country, has a legitimate right to protect its citizens and soldiers.”
When he announced the measures Mr Davutoglu added : “Israel, in fact, has misused many of the chances that were given to them and the Israeli government, on the other hand, see themselves [as being] above international laws and human conscience.”
He also explained that Turkey has lowered diplomatic relations with Israel to second secretary level. “All personnel above the second secretary level will return to their countries by Wednesday at the latest.”
Mr Davutoglu also said that Turkey has suspended military co-operation with its neighbour and would increase its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Our aim here is not to hurt our friendship but to return this friendship to its right track,” Mr Davutoglu said.
He added that Israel’s blockade wasn’t recognised as legal by Turkey, which would bring it to the International Court of Justice.
However the UN report concludes that the naval blockade of Gaza is legal and appropriate because its aim was to prevent weapons from entering by the sea.
This part of the report was welcomed by Israel, which has always refused to apologise, which angered Turkey.
While activists say Israeli forces started shooting as soon as they hit the deck, Israeli officials say they acted in self-defence.
“During the events of the Mavi Marmara flotilla, Israeli soldiers boarded the boat with non-lethal means. They had no intention to hurt anyone,” the unnamed Israeli official told the BBC. “Once the Israeli soldiers were viciously attacked by dozens of violent IHH activists, armed with batons, knives and steel pipes, the soldiers had to defend themselves.”
“After many of the soldiers were wounded during the operation, nine of the IHH rioters who had endangered their lives were killed.”
The publication of the UN-mandated inquiry, headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer, has already been delayed three timed in order to give time to Turkey and Israel to reconcile.
On Thursday Mr Davutoglu said the UN report was Israel’s “deadline” to apologise.
AFP reported Abdullah Gul, the Turkish president, as describing the UN report as “null and void for us” in televised remarks.
The Turkish move was welcomed by Hamas, the militant group running the Gaza Strip. Spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri said : “This is a natural response to the Israeli crime against the freedom flotilla.”
Concerning the report, Hamas said it was “unjust” and lacked balance.
According to the leaked UN report : “Turkey and Israel should resume full diplomatic relations, repairing their relationship in the interests of stability in the Middle East and international peace and security.”
The document also says that “Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable.”
On Friday Al Jazeera obtained a draft of the report which says that the six-vessel aid flotilla “acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade” set up by Israel around Gaza.
And the inquiry calls for Israel to make “an appropriate statement of regret” for the raid and to compensate financially the families of the nine people who died and those who were injured.