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      Erdogan Playing 'Gaza Card' to Force Apology

      Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan may visit Gaza if Israel does not apologize for killing Hamas sympathizers on the Marmara.
      By David Lev
      First Publish: 7/21/2011, 7:44 PM

      Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is considering a visit to Gaza, he told reporters in Ankara earlier this week. "If the conditions allow, I'm thinking of visiting Gaza," Erdogan said. "The foreign ministry will be working on it. I wish to make such a visit, depending on the outcome."

      Recent news reports in Israel have said that Erdogan was seeking to end the diplomatic impasse with Israel that has marred relations between Ankara and Jerusalem for several years, culminating in the deterioration after last year's flotilla. But Erdogan was emphatic at Tuesday's press conference, where he repeated his insistence that Israel apologize for the deaths of eight Turkish Hamas sympathizers who were killed when they tried to lynch IDF soldiers on the Mavi Marmara.

      News reports in Turkey termed Erdogan's comments as the Turkish leader's response to Israel's refusal to apologize. “If Israel continues to refuse to apologize, Erdogan will break the siege on Gaza himself and visit,” a Turkish newspaper editorialized this week.

      It was not clear how Erdogan would enter Gaza, if indeed the visit takes place. Egyptian authorities would have to authorize the visit if Erdogan planned to enter Gaza via Sinai. He is scheduled to visit Egypt in the coming weeks. Diplomatic sources in Turkey said that under current conditions, Erdogan would seek to enter Gaza at the end of that visit. With that, the sources said, Erdogan may hold off on visiting until the final UN report on the flotilla is released, on the chance that Israel may apologize in the report, or in a codicil attached to it.

      Hamas officials say they would welcome a visit by Erdogan. "We welcome this visit by Mr Erdogan, which will be historic if it goes ahead as it shows Turkish support for the Palestinian cause and political and moral backing to break the political siege imposed on Gaza" by Israel, Hamas's Ismail Radwan told news agencies."This visit will encourage Arab and Muslim leaders to break the siege and visit the Gaza Strip," he added.


      Israel's Foreign Ministry said that it had no comment, and that any visit by Erdogan from Sinai to Gaza was Egypt's concern.