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Turkey and Israel in scramble to avert diplomatic deep freeze

    Protesters marking ‘Nakba’ day burn an Israeli flag outside the Israeli Embassy in Istanbul earlier this year
    Protesters marking ‘Nakba’ day burn an Israeli flag outside the Israeli Embassy in Istanbul earlier this year

    Israeli and Turkish diplomats are still seeking a formula whereby the two countries can find a way to put the Gaza flotilla crisis behind them.

    The United Nations report on the 2010 flotilla - expected to justify Israel's actions to a large degree - is to be published this weekend. After its release, it will be extremely difficult to reach a compromise.

    The UN commission, headed by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer and appointed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon, completed its report four months ago but publication has been postponed three times.

    Diplomats who have seen the report have said that it justifies Israel's decision to block the flotilla to Gaza in May 2010, although it does criticise the degree of force used by Israeli naval commandos in the violent confrontation on the Marmara ferry in which nine Turkish activists were killed.

    The Turkish government has demanded an apology for the deaths and compensation for the families as a condition for ending the diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

    Once the report is published, it will be almost impossible for the two countries to achieve a reconciliation over the matter. Israeli and Turkish teams have met a number of times over the past few months and various formulations have been proposed but always rejected by one or other of the sides.

    Israeli is willing to pay compensation to the families and express regret over the deaths, but Turkish Prime Minister Reccep Tayyep Erdogan has insisted on a full apology. "We hired some of the leading linguists in the world to come up with a draft which would satisfy both sides," said a senior Israeli government source, "but Erdogan seems intent on humiliating us." Mr Erdogan has threatened that if the matter is not resolved before the publication of the Palmer Report, Turkey will reduce its diplomatic ties with Israel to the lowest possible level and initiate prosecutions against Israeli officers for war crimes.

    Despite the two sides' trenchant positions, American diplomats are still holding last-minute talks in an attempt to find a solution.

    Another factor affecting the relationship is the growing Turkish criticism of its former ally Syria over the Assad regime's bloody repression of the protests in the country.

    This has led to tension between Turkey and Syria's main backer in the region, Iran. "Both Turkey and Israel will soon need to mend ties with each other and put the flotilla behind them," said a government official in Jerusalem, "if they hope to contain the Syrian situation without too much fallout."

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