Ankara will monitor the situation in Gaza to ensure that Israel fulfills its obligation to lift the blockade on the territory, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday.
According to the Today’s Zaman newspaper, Erdogan said he would visit Gaza and the West Bank to make sure Israel holds up its end of a new agreement to normalize diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Erdogan reportedly told parliamentarians that he would accompany Turkish relief organizations to the West Bank and Gaza to monitor the blockade and the humanitarian situation in these territories.
Earlier this week, Erdogan said he was likely to visit Gaza — and the West Bank — next month. Israel’s National Security Adviser Yaakov Amidror said Israel had “nothing to be ashamed of” in Gaza, and that if Erdogan wanted to visit, he would have to explain to the international community why he wanted good relations with the terrorist organization — Hamas — that runs the strip.
Erdogan’s statement Tuesday came four days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to him and apologized for “operational errors” made during the raid on the Marmara, a vessel seeking to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza, in which nine Turkish activists were killed by naval commandos who were attacked when they boarded.
The call came in the final minutes of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Israel last week, having been brokered by the Americans. Erdogan accepted Netanyahu’s apology and the two agreed to return their respective ambassadors and pledged to overcome differences.
On Monday, Israel and Turkey took a second step toward warming diplomatic ties, with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu holding a phone conversation with Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, who also serves as the new Israeli government’s chief negotiater with the Palestinians.
According to the Turkish Hurriyet daily, the two discussed the formalization of Israel’s obligation to pay compensation to the families of those killed aboard the Gaza-bound Marmara.
However, recent statements by Erdogan — Tuesday’s statement among them — indicated that the road to reconciliation may not be smooth.
On Saturday, Erdogan appeared to backtrack on the understandings reached with Netanyahu, saying it was too early to cancel legal steps against Israeli soldiers who took part in the raid on the Mamara and that the exchange of ambassadors between Israel and Turkey would not take place immediately.
Then, on Sunday, Erdogan reiterated that normalized relations with Jerusalem would only happen if Israel implemented its side of an ostensible new bargain with Turkey, which he claimed included Israel’s lifting its security blockade of Gaza.
“We have said: ‘An apology will be made, compensation will be paid and the blockade on Palestine will be lifted.’ There will be no normalization without these,” Erdogan said. In their phone call, Netanyahu made the apology and agreed in principle on compensation, but did not pledge to lift the blockade of Gaza, which Israel maintains to prevent the Hamas government there from importing weapons for use against Israel.
Ron Friedman and Ilan Ben Zion contributed to this report.