BY BARAK RAVID
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman lashed out yesterday at Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, accusing them of spreading lies and false accusations about Israel.
In conversations with close associates, Lieberman said he did not think the two had any real desire to repair Turkey’s relationship with Israel. “We don’t need to be their punching bag,” the aides quoted him as saying.
Pro-Palestinian activists welcoming the Mavi Marmara to Istanbul yesterday with Turkish and Palestinian flags.
What infuriated Lieberman above all was Davutoglu’s assertion on Saturday that Israel would not have rushed to help Turkey the way Turkey assisted Israel during the Carmel fire earlier this month.
Speaking at the opening of the annual convention of Israeli ambassadors, Lieberman declared, “I’m no longer willing to tolerate the lies we hear from Prime Minister Erdogan, who goes to Lebanon and threatens Israel, or the lie the Turkish foreign minister uttered yesterday – that Israel would have taken several days before sending aid to Turkey. In 1999, we sent 240 people to help victims of the earthquake in Turkey.”
Davutoglu’s statement “shows what kind of people those Turks are,” he added, referring to Davutoglu and Erdogan.
Despite the disputes between the two countries, Lieberman said, Israel would offer aid immediately were another natural disaster to occur in Turkey.
He also said Israel would not apologize for killing nine Turks aboard the ship Mavi Marmara, which was part of a Turkish-sponsored flotilla that sailed to Gaza in May, in protest of Israel’s blockade there.
“The demand for an apology is beyond chutzpah,” he declared. “Turkey is the one that ought to apologize to Israel. It wasn’t we who began the escalation, and the Turks have no one to blame but themselves.”
Israeli soldiers opened fire only after the passengers on board ship attacked them with knives, clubs and iron bars.
Lieberman opposes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s current effort at reconciliation with Turkey, involving negotiations over an Israeli apology and compensation to the families of the Turkish dead. In closed forums, he has said an apology would only bolster Erdogan in the election due to take place in another few months, and that would be counter to Israel’s interests.
“We don’t need to boost Erdogan’s election campaign,” an associate quoted the minister as saying.
Over the past few weeks, Netanyahu has declined to respond to Lieberman’s vocal objections to the reconciliation effort. Yesterday, the premier’s bureau issued a statement saying merely that “the foreign minister’s remarks reflect his personal assessments and positions, just as other cabinet ministers also have positions that differ. The Israeli government’s position is only the one voiced by the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.”
But senior ministers from Netanyahu’s Likud party were furious over Lieberman’s remarks, claiming the Yisrael Beiteinu chairman feels free to say whatever he pleases because Netanyahu needs his party’s support in this week’s Knesset vote on the 2011-12 budget.
“This situation can’t go on,” said one minister. “The government cannot continue to exist this way.”
Also yesterday, thousands of pro-Palestinian activists welcomed the return to Istanbul of the Mavi Marmara, the Associated Press reported. Hundreds of balloons were released as the ship sailed into Istanbul’s Sarayburnu harbor, following repairs at a port on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast.
The activists, mostly members of pro-Islamic groups, waved Palestinian and Turkish flags and chanted “Down with Israel” and “Allah is great.” The activists have promised to send more ships in another effort to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza.
Protesters aboard other boats welcomed the approaching ship, which was adorned with a poster bearing pictures of the eight Turks and the American-Turkish teenager who were killed by Israeli naval commandos in the violence that erupted on board.
“We promise that we will go again and again to Gaza, until Gaza and Palestine are free,” Israeli-Swedish activist Dror Elimelech Feiler told the crowd.
Speaking at the welcoming ceremony, Ahmet Dogan, the father of Furkan Dogan, the American-Turkish teen who died, said the victims’ families wanted more than an apology and compensation from Israel.
“If they want to ease the pain of the families of the martyrs, the embargo and blockade (of Gaza ) must be lifted,” Dogan said. “All those in the Israeli (military ) command chain involved in the
incident must be punished.”