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Rally For Aid Ship Bodes Ill For Turkey-Israel Ties

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Rally For Aid Ship Bodes Ill For Turkey-Israel Ties


Rally For Aid Ship Bodes Ill For Turkey-Israel Ties

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  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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Thousands of people gathered in the Turkish city of Istanbul yesterday for the return of an aid ship with a deadly history. It was last May that Israeli naval commandos raided the ship, dropping down from helicopters as it headed towards the coast of the Gaza Strip. Eight Turks and a Turkish-American were killed, and those deaths created an international outcry. They also strained relations between Turkey and Israel - relations that had been good in recent years.

As NPR's Peter Kenyon reports from Istanbul, that relationship has not fully recovered.

(Soundbite of crowd chatter)

PETER KENYON: For hours, the crowd kept streaming into the port area on the city's European side. Escorted by several smaller boats, the Mavi Marmara eased into dock as volunteers from the Islamic charity IHH directed the crowd past huge posters of the nine activists who died last May.

After months of frosty relations between Turkey and Israel, there had been signs of a warming trend lately. Turkey joined other nations in helping Israel battle a damaging forest fire. And diplomats have been meeting, trying to formulate some kind of expression of regret by Israel, and possible compensation for the slain men's families. That, however, was not the message here yesterday.

(Soundbite of protesters chanting)

KENYON: Cries of "Israel be damned" rang out as the dead men were praised as martyrs. Israel says its commandos fired in self-defense after they were attacked by armed activists aboard the ship. That version of events has never found much support in Turkey. And many here agreed with Touba Andi, who traveled hundreds of miles, from the southeastern city of Adana, for the occasion.

Ms. TOUBA ANDI: (Through translator) The Mavi Marmara was a humanitarian aid ship, and it met with injustice and hostility. And I thought it was very important to come here and make a stand against that injustice.

(Soundbite of protester reading names; crowd chanting)

KENYON: The crowd roared as the names of the dead men were read out, and activists, including an Israeli-born Swede, urged the world not to forget the people of Gaza.

Israel has eased some overland restrictions on Gaza recently, and limited exports have been permitted. A visit by NPR to Gaza earlier this month, however, found the improvements had barely dented the massive poverty there.

Turkey's political leaders tried not to add to the anti-Israel sentiment. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that Ankara still intends to have peaceful relations with Israel. But 69-year-old Mustafa Ogut spoke for many ordinary Turks, who will be upset with the government if it drops its demand for an apology.

Mr. MUSTAFA OGUT: (Through translator): No, I don't think ties should be normalized. Israel definitely needs to apologize to Turkey and to the Muslim world, and that's why we're united. We are one fist together.

KENYON: Israel's hard-line foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, was only too pleased to respond in kind. In a speech that drew criticism at home and abroad, Lieberman called both Turkey's foreign minister and prime minister liars, and said Turkey is the one who should apologize.

Such comments suggest a chilly winter ahead for two countries that long enjoyed relatively good relations. And come spring, the Mavi Marmara's owners say the ship will make another trip to Gaza, to mark the one-year anniversary of the May 31st fatalities.

Peter Kenyon, NPR News, Istanbul.�

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