Turkish Foreign Minister 'Expecting an Answer' From Israel
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said his country hopes to soon close a difficult chapter with Israel, sparked by the deaths of nine Islamist extremists in an IDF raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla of ships attempting to break Israel's blockade on the Hamas-ruled territory in 2010.
Nine Turkish activists were killed after attacking the lightly-armed Israeli commandos who boarded the Mavi Marmara ship, injuring several soldiers and triggering the use of deadly force. The incident helped spikie a major crisis between the long-time regional allies and compensation claims from the victims' families.
But in the diplomatic tussle since then, "the gap between the expectations of the two sides is closing," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told AFP in an interview on Wednesday.
"Progress has been made to a great extent, but the two sides need to meet again for a final agreement," he said.
Sticking points have been the amount of compensation and the legal status of the deal, but Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said earlier this week that an agreement would soon be signed. In February, it was reported that Israel had offered $20 million in compensation to the families of those killed and wounded in the flotilla raid.
He said that after Turkish local elections Sunday - seen as a major electoral test for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who has been rocked by corruption allegations - "our first job will be making sure the compensation is bound by a legal document".
Davutoglu also said that "an answer is expected from the Israeli side" to Turkey's demands. "It is our preference, whether it will be before or after the elections... We do whatever is right at the right time."
His comments come two days after Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister said a deal would be closed very soon.
Turkish senior diplomat Feridun Sinirlioglu was in Israel in February to discuss the terms of an agreement, aimed to normalize relations between the Jewish state and its once closest Muslim ally.
Talks on compensation began a year ago after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey in a breakthrough brokered by US President Barack Obama.
In February, Erdogan said there would be no agreement without a written commitment by Israel to lift its restrictions on the Gaza Strip, a comment that led Israel to accuse him of blocking a compensation deal.
Turkey's foreign minister declined to comment on whether new ambassadors would likely be appointed as soon as an agreement is signed.
"What's important is to reach an agreement," Davutoglu said, speaking in his central home province of Konya. "The steps to be taken will be discussed when the agreement is made.
"I can say there's a positive momentum and a process in a positive direction."