ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkey has refused to allow Israel to take part in a NATO summit next month because the Jewish state has not apologized for the 2010 killing of Turkish activists in a raid on a ship taking aid to Palestinians, a Turkish official said on Monday.
Relations between the regional powers deteriorated sharply after Israeli commandos raided the Mavi Marmara aid vessel in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip and killed nine Turks in clashes with activists.
Last September, Turkey expelled Israel’s envoy and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report on the raid failed to prompt an apology from Israel.
“We did not give our consent on that issue,” a Turkish official told Reuters when asked if Turkey was blocking Israel’s participation in a NATO summit in Chicago on May 20-21.
He said Turkey was still seeking an official apology and compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid.
“NATO is an alliance and even though Israel is not a member its attendance means ... positive dialogue with NATO and all its members and without sorting this issue out we deem it not appropriate for Israel to be around,” the official said.
Turkish media reported that some NATO members had sought Israel’s participation in the summit as part of the alliance’s partnership cooperation program, designed to strengthen relations with non-member countries.
Israel is a member of the Mediterranean Dialogue, a NATO outreach program, along with six other non-NATO countries.
The Turkish official rejected the description of the move as Turkey “blocking” Israel’s attendance, saying the NATO secretariat and NATO allies would not bring the issue to the agenda officially, knowing Ankara’s stance on the issue.
A NATO spokeswoman said there had not been a discussion on inviting Israel to the Chicago summit.
The United States has tried to encourage a rapprochement between Turkey and Israel in the face of turmoil in the Middle East.
The issue of Israel’s participation was brought up at a NATO foreign ministers’ meeting in Brussels on April 18 attended by Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News said.
It said ministers from some NATO countries, including the United States, France and Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen, indirectly criticized Turkey for bringing its bilateral problems with Israel to the NATO platform.
“You are talking about being partners and partnership values. But partners, first of all, should act like partners, so that we’ll treat them accordingly,” the paper reported Davutoglu as telling his NATO colleagues.
Additional Reporting by Sebastian Moffett; Writing by Daren Butler; Editing by Janet Lawrence