ISTANBUL A new Turkish film in which an action-man hero avenges the death of Turkish activists in Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship is likely to put new strain on already tense relations between Turkey and Israel.
"Valley of the Wolves: Palestine," one of the most expensive Turkish films ever made, has drawn accusations at home of excessive violence and abroad of anti-Israeli propaganda, but it attracted big audiences at its opening this weekend.
In the film Polat Alemdar, a secret agent more akin to Rambo than James Bond, emerges from a series of bloody clashes to track down and kill the Israeli commander who ordered the storming of an aid ship heading for Gaza.
The film starts with a depiction of the real-life incident last May when Israeli marines boarded the Mavi Marmara, part of a flotilla organized by a Turkish Islamic charity, and killed nine Turkish activists who tried to stop them, creating a crisis between the former allies.
In the film, an Israeli soldier asks Alemdar why he came to Israel. He says: "I didn't come to Israel, I came to Palestine."
In the ensuing scenes, many Israeli troops and Palestinians die before Alemdar and his comrades free Palestinians from jail and set off an uprising. The film was popular among the mainly young male audience which filled an upmarket Istanbul cinema.
"I found the film successful. I think it's set to break a box office record. It was very brave of the filmmakers to show Israel's policies, the Mavi Marmara raid, and the unjust treatment of Palestinians," said Emre Bilgin, 22, a student.
The film, of which some 300 copies have been distributed across Turkey, has also stirred controversy as its premiere coincided with International Holocaust Remembrance Day.
"This is a very disturbing situation for Jews. I can't understand why the producers of this movie held the premiere on a day that is extremely important for my people," Israel's ambassador to Ankara, Gabby Levy, told state-run Anatolian news agency.
The Turkish government has distanced itself from the film, saying its makers are "profit-driven people." A previous film in which Alemdar fought U.S. troops who captured Turkish soldiers in Iraq sold well throughout the Arab world.
"It won't be very helpful at this time but we can't stop private companies," a foreign ministry official said.
A week before the film opened, an Israeli inquiry into the Mavi Marmara raid cleared the Israeli government and military of wrongdoing.
Turkey said it was "appalled and dismayed" by the findings and made public its own report, submitted to a U.N. inquiry in September, which found Israel's blockade of Gaza and its raid on the aid convoy violated international laws. (Reporting by Seda Sezer; editing by Daren Butler and Tim Pearce)