Turkey demands Israeli apology on eve of Barak visit
ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey demanded an apology from Israel on Tuesday over what it called the discourteous treatment of its ambassador, further souring ties between the two regional powers on the eve of a visit by Israel's defense minister.
Turkey, as a Muslim state, is an important ally of Israel and has in the past helped forge contacts between the Jewish state and the Arab world; but relations have soured following strong criticism by Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan of Israel's war in the Gaza Strip last year.
Turkey's foreign ministry said Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon had attempted to slight Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol during a meeting on Monday to protest against a Turkish TV drama.
Ayalon invited media crews to the beginning of the meeting in Jerusalem and pointed out there was no Turkish flag on the table. He also said he was deliberately avoiding a handshake with the ambassador.
In television images widely broadcast in Turkey, Celikkol was seen seated on a low couch, accentuating the sense of a dressing-down. He had been summoned by Israel's foreign ministry over a Turkish television drama that portrayed Israeli diplomats as masterminds of a child-abduction ring.
"We expect an explanation and apologies from Israeli authorities for the attitude against our Tel Aviv ambassador Oguz Celikkol, and the way this attitude was reflected," the Turkish foreign ministry said in a statement.
"We call on the Israeli Foreign Ministry, whose behavior and attitude toward our Tel Aviv Ambassador did not comply with diplomacy, to obey courtesy rules," it said.
In an interview with Israel's Army Radio, Ayalon was unapologetic: "In terms of the diplomatic tactics available, this was the minimum that was warranted given the repeated provocations by political and other players in Turkey."
There was similar outrage last year over a Turkish series which featured Israeli soldiers murdering Palestinian children.
The latest exchange comes ahead of a planned one-day visit by Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Turkey. Barak's office said on Tuesday the visit was at the invitation of Turkish President Abdullah Gul.
Israel on Monday issued a strong condemnation of Erdogan, whose ruling AK Party has roots in political Islam, saying his often fierce public criticism of its policies could undermine relations.
Last year, NATO member Turkey barred Israel from participating in a NATO war exercise, a decision which drew rare criticism from Turkey's ally Washington. Erdogan said it was a result of public concern about the military campaign in Gaza.
Since the 1990s, there has been close military cooperation between Turkey and Israel, including the use of Turkish air space by the Israeli air force for training.
The two countries share intelligence and have strong trade ties, including the sale of strategic military equipment.
(Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem)
(Writing by Ibon Villelabeitia; Editing by Ralph Boulton)
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