Thousands shouted "death to Israel" and greeted the Mavi Marmara flotilla ship Sunday as it docked in Istanbul, a day after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told journalists that although Turkey would like to restore its formerly friendly ties with Israel, the Jewish State must first apologize for the deaths of nine terror activists who were killed after they attacked IDF soldiers on the vessel last May.
The "Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief" -- known by the acronym "IHH" -- held a welcoming ceremony for the vessel at the port. The Turkish terror-linked organization was behind the armed, trained mercenary-style "activists" who occupied the vessel during the May 31 incident that has been the focus of tension between the two nations for months.
Davutoglu held firm to the Ankara government's position that Israel is to blame for the rift between the two countries, but he insisted to journalists at a news conference in Istanbul on Saturday, “We have the intention of making peace with Israel.”
The Turkish-sponsored vessel, part of a six-ship flotilla intent on breaking Israel's blockade of Gaza, had ignored Israeli naval commands to change course. Eight of the nine who died in the ensuing clash were Turkish nationals, and all were members of the IHH organization. The ninth terror activist was a Turkish citizen of American origin.
Turkey is demanding that Jerusalem pay compensation to the families of the nine terror activists who attacked IDF commandos as they boarded the Mavi Marmara flotilla vessel to guide it towards Ashdod port.
Israel, for its part, says it has nothing to apologize for after Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and repeatedly slammed Israel over the incident. Israel wants Turkey to return its ambassador to Tel Aviv and take the Mavi Marmara clash off the international agenda.
The Anatolia news agency quoted Davutoglu as saying, “We are for peace with all countries. Why should we want bad relations with a country with whom we are trying to broker peace?” The foreign minister was referring to Turkey's past role as a third-party mediator between Israel and Syria.
Turkey and Israel met in Geneva earlier this month for two days of talks after Ankara reached out to help with a ravaging wildfire that struck the Carmel mountain range. The two sides drew up a draft agreement that allegedly would end the crisis. But the document has yet to be approved, according to the AFP news agency.
Until Operation Cast Lead, Israel's counter terrorism war against the Hamas rulers of Gaza two years ago this month, the Jewish State enjoyed a close relationship with its Muslim neighbor. Turkey and Israel signed a military cooperation pact in 1996, and have long had strong economic and other ties as well.