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September 02, 2011

UN Chief 'Sincerely Hopes' Israel, Turkey Improve Relations

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon says he sincerely hopes Israel and Turkey will improve their relationship, following Ankara's decision to expel Israel's ambassador and suspend all military agreements.

Ban told reporters Saturday that both countries are very important to the region, and to the Middle East peace process.

Turkey downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel after details emerged late Thursday of a U.N. panel's report on last year's Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship.

The report officially released Friday concluded that Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, but that the Israeli government used "excessive and unreasonable" force in stopping the Turkish ship attempting to break the blockade.

It criticized the loss of life resulting from the Israeli raid as "unacceptable."  It said Israel has not provided a "satisfactory explanation" for the killings of the nine Turks, most of whom it says were "shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range."

Turkey has demanded Israel apologize for the incident, which Israel reiterated Friday it will not do.  

However, the report also found that the Israeli commandos who boarded the Turkish ship used force to protect themselves in response to what it called "significant, organized and violent resistance" from some of the passengers.

Turkish President Abdullah Gul declared the U.N. report "null and void" for Turkey, and criticized it for describing Israel's naval blockade as a legitimate security measure and in line with international law.

Israel has indicated that it accepts the findings of the U.N. report.  Turkey has long demanded an Israeli apology, compensation for the families of those who died and a scrapping of the blockade.  Israel says it has not ruled out expressing regret and offering compensation.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the Obama administration hopes the two nations "look for opportunities to improve their longstanding relationship."

The ship, called the Mavi Marmara, was the largest of six vessels in a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians.  The panel said the flotilla organizers "acted recklessly" by trying to breach the Israeli blockade.  It also accused Israel of "significant mistreatment" of flotilla passengers after Israeli forces commandeered the vessels in Mediterranean waters off the Israeli coast.

The report's lead authors are former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer and former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe.  The four-member panel also included representatives of the Israeli and Turkish governments.

The report was completed in July but U.N. officials repeatedly have delayed its release to give Israel and Turkey an opportunity to resolve their dispute about the Mavi Marmara incident, which has severely strained relations between the one-time allies.

 

Some information for this report was provided by AFP and Reuters.