ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu pulled out of a security conference in Munich at the last minute on Friday, saying he did not wish to attend a joint session with an Israeli delegation.
Relations between the formerly steadfast allies remain strained since a major rupture in 2010, when Israeli marines killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists in clashes aboard a ship that tried to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip. A tenth Turk later died of injuries from the incident.
“I was going to attend the conference but we decided not to after they added Israeli officials to the Middle East session at the last minute,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Berlin, where he has been meeting Turkish ambassadors based in Europe.
Withdrawing from the meeting was nothing to do with Turkey’s relationship with Germany, he said in the remarks broadcast by Turkish state television TRT.
Israel’s delegate to the Munich conference, Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz, said that by staying away from the conference, the NATO power was “effectively identifying with radical Islam and terrorist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas” and “heavily clouding Turkey’s future and character”
“I intend proudly and honourably to represent Israel at this important discussion of the future of the Middle East,” he said in a statement.
Despite being major trading partners and despite U.S. efforts to broker a reconciliation, Israel and Turkey frequently engage in bitter verbal exchanges.
President Tayyip Erdogan, whose ruling party has Islamist roots and who is an outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause, said Israel’s war in Hamas-controlled Gaza last year “surpassed Hitler in barbarism”. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu responded by accusing him of anti-Semitism.
Last month Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu likened Netanyahu to the Islamist militants who killed 17 people in Paris - among them four Jews at a kosher supermarket - saying he had also committed crimes against humanity.
Writing by Humeyra Pamuk and Dan Williams; Editing by Jonny Hogg and Ralph Boulton