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Published: Saturday, 9/3/2011

Turkey curtails official ties with Israel

Deadly raid on aid ship blamed


JERUSALEM — Turkey said Friday it was expelling the Israeli ambassador and suspending military pacts with Israel, signaling a deepening rift between the former strategic allies in the wake of last year’s deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish ship leading an aid flotilla to Gaza.

Turkey announced its move ahead of the publication of a U.N. report which found that while Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip was legal, its commandos had used “excessive and unreasonable” force when they boarded the vessel and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists.

Israel has rejected Turkey’s demand for an apology and payment of compensation to families of the dead despite pressure from Washington, which is concerned about the discord between two of its key Mideast allies.

Turkey said the apology was a condition for improving diplomatic ties and set the release of the report as a deadline.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said the government was downgrading ties with Israel “to the second secretary level” and that the Israeli ambassador and other senior diplomats would be sent home by Wednesday.

Ambassador Gabby Levy, who was in Israel, canceled plans to return to Ankara, an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman said.

Israel and Turkey had developed military ties for more than a decade, giving Israel a vital alliance with a Muslim nation that eased its isolation in the largely Arab Middle East. Turkey, for its part, gained access to Israeli military technology.

Israel supplied hundreds of millions of dollars of military hardware to Turkey, including surface-to-air missiles and drones, and has upgraded Turkish tanks and fighter jets.

The U.N. report said Israel should express regret over the killings and offer compensation. It urged both nations to resume diplomatic relations.

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