Turkey heaps pressure on Israel over Gaza at talks

Turkey called for international punishment of Israel for its deadly raid on a Turkish Gaza-bound aid ship at a summit Monday where Ankara will also urge an immediate end to Israel's blockade of the territory.

Leaders from Russia, Iran, Pakistan and Afghanistan are to attend the Eurasian and Middle East talks, but Israel is sending a diplomat from its consulate in Ankara rather than expose a higher-ranking figure to the fury over last week's killings.

"Israel committed a crime against all international laws and regulations," Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu told a news conference with his Afghan and Pakistani counterparts ahead of the summit, which includes key enemies of Israel.

Turkey wants a final declaration by the two-day meeting of the Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA) forum to condemn Monday's raid by Israeli commandos in which nine Turks were killed.

"If CICA is the OECD of Asia then the final declaration of the summit should have a statement about Israel's attack," a Turkish official said, referring to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development.

"If there was such an attack in Hungary, for example, then all OECD countries would have a say."

Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, who held talks on the sidelines with his Afghan counterpart Zalmay Rasul and Davutoglu to foster relations between Kabul and Islamabad, condemned the incident which drew global censure.

"Pakistan condemned in the strongest possible terms the unjustified aggression shown toward the freedom flotilla," Qureshi said, and told Davutoglu: "We stand by you."

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has said Israel must be punished and that "nothing would ever be the same" between the two nations, accusing Israel of breaking the biblical commandment "thou shalt not kill."

"Israel Policies not Tolerable"

Davutoglu also told Monday's news conference Muslim Turkey will not fully normalize relations with once close ally Israel until the Jewish state accepted an international investigation.

Israel rejected such a proposal by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and said it had the right to launch its own inquiry, saying that its forces acted in self-defense after they were set upon by pro-Palestinian activists wielding clubs and knives.

Davutoglu said on the eve of the talks that Ankara could no longer tolerate the policies of Israel toward the Palestinians.

"Turkey was one of the first countries recognizing Israel," Davutoglu told CNN Sunday.

"But now we cannot tolerate the policies of tension, the policies of blockade against Gaza, the policies of punishment ... and the policy of attacking civilians in international sea, international waters. That, we cannot tolerate."

While the forum aims to dampen regional tensions, Israel's storming of the ship and what to do about the blockade on the Palestinians are likely to dominate the meeting.

The nine Turks were killed Monday in the Israeli commando raid on the Mavi Marmara, part of a six-vessel convoy that set out to challenge the blockade of the Gaza Strip imposed in 2006 after Hamas Islamists won control of the territory.

Turkey's Islamist-leaning government and the Turkish public were infuriated by the killings.

Turkey on World Stage

Turkey, NATO's only Muslim member and a candidate to join the European Union, has sought to raise its international profile in recent years, mediating in issues ranging from Afghanistan/Pakistan ties to Iran's nuclear program.

Critics say Erdogan's government, which has a hard core of support among religious conservatives and strong backing in the broader population, risks tilting too far toward stronger ties with Middle East governments the West does not trust.

Iran's Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has called for Israel to be "wiped off the map," and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas are among eight presidents at the talks, which kicked off Monday ahead of Tuesday's full summit.

President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, though not a member, is attending as a guest.

The diplomatic momentum will continue Wednesday, as Arab League foreign ministers gather for a Turkish-Arab Forum.

Turkey, with Brazil's help, brokered an accord with Iran for a nuclear fuel swap, in the hope of heading off sanctions against a fellow Muslim neighbor, major trading partner and key supplier of gas.

[Source: Reuters, Ankara, 07Jun10]

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