Turkey expels Israeli ambassador over flotilla apology dispute


 (JTA) — Turkey announced the expulsion of Israel’s ambassador in Ankara and said it would pursue legal action against Israelis involved in the boarding of a Gaza-bound ship that ended in bloodshed.

Turkey’s foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, told reporters Friday that the government was downgrading its diplomatic relations with Israel to "the second secretary level." He said the ambassador and other diplomats would be sent home by Wednesday. He also said that military agreements between the two countries would be suspended.

“The time has come for Israel to pay for its stance that sees it above international laws and disregards human conscience,” he said, according to the Associated Press.

Later in the day Turkey’s embassy in Washington issued a statement vowing to pursue legal action against Israeli soldiers and officials involved in the raid.

The announcements came the same day as the United Nations released a report on Israel’s May 2010 boarding of the Mavi Marmara.

Nine Turkish citizens died in violent clashes with Israeli commandos boarding the ship, part of a pro-Palestinian flotilla trying to break Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip. Israel has said it willing to express regret over the deaths and to pay compensation for those killed, but Turkey has demanded an official apology, which Israel has refused to give.

The U.N. report, known as the Palmer report, concluded that Israeli commandos used force in self-defense as they were attacked by the ship’s passengers. But it deemed the level of force employed by Israel to be "excessive and unreasonable." The report also concluded that Israel’s blockade of Gaza was legal.

The two countries had previously delayed the release of the U.N. report as they tried to negotiate a resolution to their diplomatic crisis.

Turkey’s foreign minister said his country rejects some of the conclusions of the U.N. report. He also indicated that relations with Israel could return to normal if Israel apologizes.

“Our aim here is not to hurt our friendship but to return this friendship to its right track,” Davutoglu said.

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