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September 07, 2011

Turkish Official Says All Not Lost With Israel

A Turkish ruling party official says Ankara has not eliminated all options with Israel despite imposing sanctions on the Jewish state for refusing to apologize for a deadly raid on a Turkish vessel last year.

Justice and Development Party deputy chairman Huseyin Celik said Thursday the Turkish embassy in Israel and the Israeli embassy in Turkey remain open. He said relations can return to what he called the "old days" under certain conditions, reiterating Turkey's demand for an Israeli apology and the payment of compensation to the families of the nine Turkish activists killed in the Israeli raid.

Turkey imposed several sanctions on Israel this week, including expelling the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats from Ankara and suspending military trade and cooperation between the former allies.

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak said Thursday he believes the rift with Ankara "will pass." He said Turkey is "not an enemy" of Israel and both nations recognize their importance as allies of the West.

U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis Ricciardone said Washington wants the two nations to keep diplomatic channels open and normalize relations as soon as possible.

Turkey's main opposition party has criticized Ankara's handling of the crisis, saying it should not have allowed the relationship with Israel to worsen as much as it has.

Israeli commandos stormed the Turkish vessel Mavi Marmara in the Mediterranean in May 2010 to enforce an Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip aimed at preventing weapons from reaching militants who control Gaza. The vessel was carrying humanitarian aid for Palestinians. A confrontation on the ship led to the killings of nine Turkish activists and the wounding of several Israeli soldiers.

A U.N. report published last week said Israel used "excessive and unreasonable" force in the incident.  But the panel that wrote the report also said Israel's enforcement of the naval blockade was a "legitimate" security measure against the Mavi Marmara and other vessels in the Gaza-bound flotilla.  The report also accused the flotilla organizers of acting "recklessly" by challenging the blockade.

Israel has accepted the U.N. report with some reservations, while Turkey has rejected its key findings.

Some information for this report was provided by AP.