News / Middle East

Turkey Curtails Ties With Israel Over Gaza Flotilla Raid

Turkey is threatening to cut ties with Israel to a minimum following this week's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said on Friday that economic and defense ties with Israel will be reduced.  Turkish media report Ankara is also pursuing a possible criminal case against Israel in international court.

Separately, Turkish officials said Friday they sent two ambulance planes to bring home the last five wounded activists held by Israeli authorities.  

Nine pro-Palestinian activists, including a 19-year-old American of Turkish origin, died after Israeli commandos raided their ship Monday.  The ship was part of a convoy organized by a Turkish aid group trying to break Israel's three-year blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Another ship carrying humanitarian supplies is expected to challenge Israel's blockade in the coming days. Pro-Palestinian activists say the Rachel Corrie, could reach the so-called Israeli exclusion zone off Gaza's coast later Friday.  

Meanwhile, Israel is restricting access to part of Jerusalem's Old City.

Israeli police said Friday only men over the age of 40 would be allowed to attend prayer services at the al-Aqsa mosque.  Officials also said additional police officers would be deployed across the city.

The al-Aqsa mosque compound is located on a site holy to both Muslims and Jews, and has been the scene of previous clashes between Palestinians and Israeli forces.

Despite the tensions, U.S. Middle East Envoy George Mitchell met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Friday, part of the latest round of indirect peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians.  Israeli officials said late Thursday that Mr. Netanyahu is considering ways to make it easier for civilian goods to get into Gaza while still enforcing an arms embargo.

Mitchell met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas earlier this week in the West Bank.

Palestinian officials say Mr. Abbas will visit Turkey next week, before flying to Washington for a meeting with U.S. President Barack Obama.

In an interview with CNN late Thursday, Mr. Obama acknowledged Israel's security concerns but called the Israeli raid tragic.  He also expressed hope the situation might serve as an opportunity to advance the Middle East peace process.

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