Turkey says Israel to release all Turks from aid ships, prepares big welcome for activists

By Selcan Hacaoglu, AP
Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Turkey: Israel to release all Turks from aid ships

ANKARA, Turkey — Israel has agreed to release all Turks involved in the Gaza aid flotilla, Turkish officials announced Wednesday as they prepared to host a joyous welcome home for the activists in Istanbul’s main square.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said 210 Turks were to be flown home from Israel on Turkish planes later Wednesday. He said Israel also assured Turkey it would not put on trial any of the hundreds of Turks it detained after seizing the aid ships Monday.

“We have clearly stated that we would review our ties with Israel if all Turks not released by the end of the day,” Davutoglu told a news conference. “All citizens of foreign countries will be set free.”

“No one has the right to try people who were kidnapped in international waters,” Davutoglu added.

It was not clear when or how all the estimated 400 Turks on the aid ships would arrive home.

Davutoglu also called Wednesday for an international commission to investigate the nine deaths in the Israeli commando raid on the flotilla.

Israel’s bloody raid on six aid ships that carried 700 activists who were trying to break the Israel’s navel blockade of Gaza has dramatically escalated tensions with Turkey. The attack killed nine people, including at least four Turks on a Turkish aid ship. Turkey withdrew its ambassador, scrapped war games with Israel and demanded a U.N. Security Council meeting on the clash as a result.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan chaired a security meeting Wednesday of the country’s top military commanders and defense officials to discuss the Israeli raid as well as intensified Kurdish rebel attacks in the southeast.

The Parliament, meanwhile, held heated debates on whether to impose military and economic sanctions on Israel. But lawmakers of Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party objected such measures in an apparent move to avoid aggravating the situation.

Davutoglu said a Turkish delegation was in Israel to oversee the return of the detained Turks, and two Turks in serious condition would remain in Israeli hospitals with a Turkish doctor.

“We will not leave them to the mercy of anyone,” Davutoglu said.

Interior Minister Besir Atalay said Turkey had beefed up security to protect its Jewish minority as well as Israel’s diplomatic missions. He said security provisions were intensified at 20 points in Istanbul alone. The city has several synagogues and Jewish centers.

The moves came as hundreds of Turks protested Israel’s commando raid for a third day Wednesday and Israeli diplomats’ families began packing to leave following orders from the Israeli government.

In the past, there have been occasional attacks on Turkey’s Jewish community of 23,000 people. In 2003, al-Qaida-linked suicide bombers attacked the British consulate, a British bank and two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul, killing 58 people. In 1986, gunmen killed 22 people in an attack on Istanbul’s Neve Shalom synagogue.

On Monday, hours after Israeli marines stormed the Turkish ship, a Turk threw a punch at an Israeli cyclist at international cycling race in northwestern Turkey. The cyclist dodged the punch and police arrested the man.

Most of Turkey’s Jews are descendants of people expelled from Spain in 1492 for refusing to convert to Christianity, and were welcomed by Ottoman Sultan Beyazit. Other Jews found refuge in Turkey after fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.

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