ANKARA, Turkey - Turkey's foreign minister said Saturday that his country wanted improved ties with Israel but that Israel must apologize and offer compensation for its deadly raid on a Gaza Strip-bound aid flotilla.
The United States and the European Union have called on Turkey and Israel to overcome tensions and renew close links to help with peace efforts in the Middle East.
"We have the intention of making peace with Israel," the state-run Anatolia news agency quoted the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, as saying during a meeting with a group of journalists in Istanbul. "We are for peace with all countries."
Israel and Turkey built strong military and economic ties in the last 15 years, and Turkey became Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world.
Relations between the two soured, however, with Turkey's Islamic-oriented government's increasingly vociferous criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians. They hit a low in May, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza-bound ship that tried to breach Israel's naval blockade of the territory.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv, and Turkish leaders repeatedly denounced Israel over the raid. Turkey has made an apology by Israel and compensation for the dead activists' families a condition for improved ties.
Israeli commandos said they opened fire in self-defense after meeting what they called unexpected resistance when they boarded the ship. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan also wants Israel to end its blockade of Gaza. Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza after the Islamic Hamas seized control of the strip in 2007.
Israel wants Turkey to return its ambassador and remove the raid from the international agenda.
"We want to both preserve relations and defend our rights," Davutoglu said. "If our friendship with Israel is to continue, the way for it is to apologize and offer compensation."
He spoke on the eve of the return of the raided Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, to Istanbul. Pro-Islamic groups prepared to welcome the ship in a ceremony Sunday.
The flotilla was trying to break the blockade, though Israel maintained that it was an orchestrated provocation. After the raid, Israel significantly eased Gaza import restrictions over land and said it would permit increased exports.
High-ranking Israeli and Turkish officials held two days of talks in Geneva, Switzerland, aimed at mending ties after Turkey sent aircraft and firefighters to help Israel battle a wildfire earlier this month.
"We are having difficulties when it is not reciprocated," Davutoglu said of the gesture.
Israeli foreign ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said that Israel's "record in sending humanitarian aid to Turkey speaks for itself, and it speaks in a much more truthful and friendly manner than this statement by the Turkish foreign minister."
Palmor said, "Israel has never made it a mystery that it wants good relations with Turkey. This has been our unchanged goal."
Hamas Warns of Rise in Violence
A leader of Hamas' armed wing warned Israel on Saturday of a possible escalation in violence after the Israeli air force struck targets in the Gaza Strip in response to a rise in rocket and mortar attacks from the Palestinian enclave into southern Israel.
If Israel "wants to test our responses, it will be faced by a harsh response," Abu Obeida said in Gaza. "The current attempts of the enemy to escalate won't be faced by silence."
The Israeli air force said it struck two targets related to activities in Gaza overnight in response to the launching of 26 projectiles from there into Israel in the last week, an Israeli army spokeswoman said, speaking on condition of anonymity per military regulations.
- Bloomberg News