Turkey warns of more sanctions against Israel

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Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey said today his nation's navy will step up its surveillance of the eastern Mediterranean Sea since Israel has refused to apologise for last year's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound protest flotilla there.

Erdogan also said his government may impose more sanctions against Israel since it has refused to apologise for the attack on the flotilla. The attack occurred in international waters, 72 nautical miles from land, and killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists.

Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives, and today it said it may be time for the two countries to restore their former close ties.

Speaking before Erdogan's threat of more sanctions, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said, "Israel and Turkey are the two strongest nations in the Middle East and in many respects, the most important. We have disputes, and even in the case of disputes, it's very important that the two sides use their brains and not act from the gut. It would be best for all involved and in the interest of regional stability to patch things up." Barak was speaking to reporters while touring Israel's northern border.

Turkey has already suspended military ties with Israel, ordered its top diplomats out of the country by tomorrow and promised to lobby other nations to support a plan by Palestinians to seek recognition as a state at an annual meeting of the UN General Assembly later this month.

Erdogan did not say what the next round of sanctions could include.

A UN report released last week called the Israeli raid on the flotilla "excessive and unreasonable," but also said Turkey and the flotilla organisers contributed to the deaths. Israel has accepted the UN report, albeit with reservations.

"That report does not mean anything for us," Erdogan said yesterday. "We will determinedly maintain this process. Diplomatic relations will be downgraded as of tomorrow, trade relations, military relations have been suspended."

Turkey did not impose a trade embargo on Israel but suspended ongoing defence projects and purchases from Israeli defense firms. Erdogan's office said the prime minister was referring to defence relations only.

"This process will be followed by very different types of sanctions," Erdogan said at a news conference, without elaborating.

He condemned the Israeli raid on the Turkish aid ship as "savagery" and accused Israel of acting like "a spoiled boy" in the region.

He also vowed to ensure "freedom of navigation" in the eastern Mediterranean by using Turkey's naval bases in the ports of Iskenderun and Aksaz to "keep the area under constant surveillance."

"Of course, our ships will show themselves quite often from now on. We will see it very often," Erdogan said.

Israel's navy closely protects its coastline and enforces the Gaza blockade, but it's not a major naval power in the eastern Mediterranean.