Erdogan blasts Gaza flotilla that sparked crisis with Israel

In dramatic change of tone following reconciliation deal with Jerusalem, Turkish leader says activists on 2010 voyage did not seek his permission to set sail

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people gathered for a traditional "iftar" Muslim feast at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, June 27, 2016. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people gathered for a traditional "iftar" Muslim feast at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, June 27, 2016. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP)

With a reconciliation deal between Turkey and Israel finalized, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has for the first time lambasted the group behind the 2010 flotilla to the Gaza Strip that sparked years of strife between the nations.

Erdogan, who has been attacked by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH) for signing the accord with Israel, said Wednesday the aid group had no business criticizing him, as its unsanctioned actions were the cause of years of diplomatic crisis.

“Did you ask for my permission before setting out on the flotilla?” Erdogan said at a Ramadan fast-breaking dinner at his residence in Ankara. “When you launch a flotilla you need to ask [permission].”

He added that at the time of the flotilla “we were already delivering the same amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza, but without making [a show if it],” according to Turkey’s Daily Sabah newspaper.

“Now we have Israel’s promise, all aid supplies to Gaza will be permitted from now on,” Erdogan said.

Erdogan’s remarks marked a radical change in tack by the Turkish president who has hitherto repeatedly condemned Israel over the flotilla incident and championed Hamas.

The IHH complained in recent days that the deal was tantamount to acceptance of Israel’s blockade on Gaza. Israel says the blockade is necessary to keep out material that could be used for military purposes in the Strip, which is run by the terror group Hamas.

The deal states Israel will pay $20 million compensation over the May 2010 IDF raid on the Gaza-bound Turkish ship Mavi Marmara, which resulted in the deaths of 10 Turkish citizens after the activists on board attacked the soldiers. Turkey will be able to send supplies to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod.

On Wednesday the high-level security cabinet approved the agreement, with seven out of its 10 members voting in favor.

“We are returning to full normalization with Turkey, including the return of ambassadors,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in announcing the rapprochement.

Netanyahu, too has faced opposition over the deal, including from Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), along with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, both of the Jewish Home party.

Critics have faulted the accord as a capitulation to Hamas in that it does not provide for the return to Israel of two Israeli civilians believed to be in Gaza and the bodies of two Israeli soldiers held by Hamas in Gaza since 2014 Operation Protective Edge. The Israeli payment has also been attacked as a national humiliation.

Netanyahu has dismissed the criticism, saying “Our vital interests are advanced by this deal.”

The family of Hadar Goldin, one of the two fallen soldiers whose body is being held by Hamas in Gaza, on Wednesday slammed the Turkey deal as a “prize” for the terrorist group.

“The prime minister has made Hamas a party in the agreement by way of Turkey, which sponsors the organization. Therefore, the prime minister is encouraging terrorism and giving Hamas a prize,” the family said in a statement.

The families of Avraham Mengistu, an Ethiopian Israeli believed to be a captive in Gaza, and Oron Shaul, the second fallen soldier whose body is held by Hamas, rallied outside the Prime Minister’s Office ahead of the vote and spoke to several ministers before the cabinet meeting.

On Tuesday, the families met with Netanyahu and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon on the issue.

Netanyahu promised repeatedly to do everything possible for the Israelis in Gaza and appealed to Ban to intervene.

But the prime minister has also stressed that Turkey had agreed to try to assist in this matter, and that the agreement ends years of Israeli-Turkish enmity, protects Israeli soldiers from legal action over the Mavi Marmara affair, leaves the security blockade of Gaza in place, and opens the possibility of major bilateral economic cooperation.

At Wednesday’s dinner Erdogan also said his country would overcome terror groups, a day after suspected IS militants attacked Istanbul’s busiest airport with gunfire and bombs, killing 42 people and wounding scores of others.

He said terror organizations were trying to impede Turkey’s ambitions, including becoming one of the world’s 10 strongest economies and building the world’s largest airport.

Erdogan said terrorists would not “succeed in deterring Turkey from its goals.” He added that the airport attackers were “not Muslims” and “have prepared their place in hell.”

Erdogan thanked world leaders including US President Barack Obama and Russian President Vladimir Putin, for calling to offer their condolences.

AP contributed to this report.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed