Netanyahu refuses to apologise to Turkey

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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said yesterday that he would not apologise to Turkey over an Israeli raid that killed nine Turks on a ship bound for Gaza, reiterating his position after Turkey acted to downgrade relations with Israel.

Turkey on Friday froze all military pacts with Israel, expelled the Israeli ambassador and threatened legal sanctions after a UN report on the May 2010 raid failed to get an Israeli apology.

The report said Israel had used unreasonable force when raiding the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara, but it also said that pro-Palestinian activists onboard had mounted organised and violent resistance.

Turkey wants an end to Israel's blockade of Gaza and wants compensation for the families of those killed in the raid.

"We do not need to apologise that the naval commandos defended themselves against the violent activists," Mr Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting, echoing a statement by his office on Friday.

"I hope a way can be found to overcome the dispute with Turkey. Israel never wanted its relations with Turkey to deteriorate," he said.

"To the naval commandos I want to say: In the same way that you and the rest of the IDF's (Israel Defence Force's) soldiers protect us, we will defend you in every place and at every forum," Mr Netanyahu said at the cabinet meeting. "But as well as this, I repeat: The state of Israel expresses regret at the loss of life."

The UN report said Israel's naval blockade of Gaza was a legitimate security measure to prevent weapons from reaching the enclave but force used by commandos was "excessive and unreasonable".

Publication of the so-called Palmer report was delayed repeatedly to allow months of rapprochement talks between Israel and Turkey, once close allies, at a time of wide upheaval in the Middle East.

Turkey aims to pursue criminal cases against Israeli officials responsible for the killings on board the Marmara, which the crew said was delivering aid to Gaza. Turkey rejected the report's finding on the blockade and said it would apply for an investigation by the International Court of Justice into its legality.

Turkey's prime minister, Tayyip Erdogan, a hero in the Muslim world for championing the Palestinian cause, is expected to go to Egypt this month. A security source in the Gaza Strip said he plans to visit the territory, which shares a border with Egypt. There has been no official announcement of a Gaza visit.

A visit by Erdogan to Gaza could deepen rifts with Israel. REUTERS