Israel refuses to apologise for Freedom Flotilla massacre

A section of the march in London on June 5th 2009 condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla
A section of the march in London on June 5th 2009 condemning the Israeli attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla

ISRAEL has rejected a US request to apologise to Turkey over its 2010 commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that killed nine Turkish activists, Israeli media reported on Wednesday.

Israel’s two main radio stations said US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton called Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday with a direct request that he make an apology – but he turned her down.

‘He said Israel has no intention of apologising at this time and that he is waiting for the publication of a report by the UN secretary general,’ army radio said.

A United Nations report into the flotilla affair, whose publication has been postponed at least twice this year to allow time for the two sides to reconcile their differences, is due to be released on August 20.

Israeli daily Ynet earlier reported that Israeli diplomats in Washington had passed on a message from Clinton saying the Israel-Turkey crisis was interfering with US attempts to deal with the bloodshed in Syria.

A similar message was given to Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak when he visited Washington in late July, when Clinton asked him to do everything in his power to resolve the crisis – ‘including apologise’, the paper said.

In May 2010, Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish ferry leading a six-ship flotilla attempting to break Israel’s naval embargo on the Gaza Strip.

The botched operation left nine Turkish nationals dead and sparked a diplomatic crisis with Ankara, which immediately recalled its ambassador.

Since then, Turkey has demanded an Israeli apology for the bloodshed, as well as compensation for the victims’ families.

Israel has steadfastly refused, although privately officials acknowledge that restoring the once-strong relationship with Ankara would be desirable.

The United States is looking to deepen its ties with Turkey, which shares a border with Syria, in a bid to better handle Syria’s spiraling violence, and hopes an Israeli apology would facilitate that, Ynet said.

• The United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations criticised on Tuesday, Israel’s move to expand a West Bank settlement, calling it a threat to peace efforts.

The latest public condemnation of Israel came amid intense efforts by the Quartet, to get Palestinians and Israelis back into direct talks, diplomats reported.

‘The Quartet is greatly concerned by Israel’s recent announcements to advance planning for new housing units in Ariel and East Jerusalem,’ both areas on the Palestinian side of the pre-1967 border, the four powers said in a statement.

‘This comes at a critical juncture with Quartet efforts ongoing to resume negotiations which are the only way to a just and durable solution to the conflict,’ added the statement.

‘Israel has again ignored the calls of the international community to refrain from actions which make a return to negotiations more difficult,’ UK Foreign Office Minister Henry Bellingham said in a statement on Tuesday.

‘These repeated actions, illegal under international law, undermine confidence and threaten a two state solution.’

Israel on Monday approved the building of 277 new homes in Ariel, a Jewish settlement inside the occupied West Bank, taking the total to more than 2,700 new settler homes approved in the past two weeks.

The planned expansion has brought a furious response from the Palestinian Authority, which has shunned direct talks since Israel ended a moratorium on settlement building in September last year.

Israel has rejected the international criticism, insisting that settlements built illegally on Palestinian lands are not an obstacle to direct talks.

‘The Palestinians have negotiated many times when settlements were in existence,’ said Israel’s UN ambassador Ron Prosor.

‘Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put in place a freeze on settlements, during which Palestinians waited nine months to come back to the table. Why? They have learned that it is better for them to sit back and do absolutely nothing.’

The freeze, which was imposed unilaterally by Israel, did not include East Jerusalem. Palestinian leaders called it insufficient to prove a serious will to make peace, and only returned to the negotiations table under heavy US pressure.

With the negotiations stalled for almost a year, President Mahmoud Abbas is preparing to seek full United Nations membership at the UN General Assembly in September.

Israel says this is a threat to the peace process and the United States is expected to veto any application to the UN Security Council.

‘The Quartet reaffirms that unilateral action by either party cannot prejudge the outcome of negotiations and will not be recognised by the international community,’ said the statement.

‘Jerusalem in particular is one of the core issues that must be resolved through negotiations between the parties, which underscores the urgent need for the parties to resume serious and substantive talks,’ the international powers added.

The Quartet has itself been divided in recent months over how to end the conflict that it has been trying for years to settle.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov held a meeting in Washington in July and could not even agree on a statement about the encounter.

The European powers want the Quartet to take a stronger role in efforts to get the Palestinians and Israelis back to the negotiating table, even if this means setting out the parameters for talks. The United States has pushed back such a move, diplomats said.

l Egyptian security forces said they had seized a mega-factory for manufacturing weapons in the northern Sinai town of El-Arish on Tuesday night.

Explosives, rockets and other weapons were captured, and a suspect was detained at the scene, security officials said.

The Egyptian army and police have flooded the peninsula region bordering Israel and Gaza, in an operation termed ‘Eagle’, to clamp down on militants accused of five attacks on a gas pipeline to Israel this year.

An Egyptian police officer was killed at the end of July in a shoot out between forces and gunmen at El-Arish police station.

Six men were detained in El-Arish on Monday, and earlier on Tuesday Egyptian forces apprehended four men they said were preparing another attack on the supply line to Israel.

Egyptian security officials said that the army located the factory – believed to be the main site for weapons production in the Sinai region – at the western edge of El-Arish city, in a building owned by a known ‘jihadist’, a reference to Islamic militants.

Forces raided the depot on Tuesday night, and discovered amongst the projectile and explosive manufacturing equipment, three sacks of gunpowder and of urea, used to create explosives, five bags of TNT explosive, seven anti-aircraft projectiles, three rocket-propelled grenades, and 30 individual and tank mines, the officials said.

A sniper rifle belonging to the officer shot dead at the end of July was also discovered.

The forces detained a man inside the factory for interrogation, and reported that he confessed a colleague had taken the rifle after shooting the officer.