Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Friday apologised to Turkey for a deadly 2010 flotilla raid and announced a full resumption of diplomatic ties as well as compensation for the families of those killed, his office said.
The breakthrough, which ends a nearly three-year bitter diplomatic rift, was engineered by US President Barack Obama at the tail end of a historic three-day visit to the Holy Land, the first of his presidency.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One shortly after departing for Amman, a senior US official said the Israeli premier had apologised to his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan in a special phonecall from Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv.
“On behalf of Israelis he apologised for any deaths those operational mistakes might have caused,” the US official said.
“Prime Minister Erdogan accepted the apology on behalf of Turkey,” he added, saying Obama had also spoken with the Turkish leader.
Israel and Turkey both confirmed the apology, with Netanyahu’s office announcing a resumption of full diplomatic ties between the former close allies.
A source close to the Turkish government also confirmed the breakthrough. “Apologies have indeed been offered,” he told reporters.
Ties between Israel and Turkey spiralled in May 2010, when Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on the six-ship flotilla headed by the Mavi Marmara, in which nine Turkish nationals were killed.
The assault triggered an international outcry and a bitter diplomatic crisis between Israel and Turkey, with Ankara demanding a formal apology and compensation for the families of the victims.
Until now, Israel has refused, in part for fear that it could open the way for the prosecution of commandos who took part in the raid.
News of the breakthrough was confirmed by Netanyahu’s office in a statement which confirmed the apology and announced a full resumption of diplomatic ties.
And it also confirmed Israel would pay compensation to the families of victims.
“Netanyahu today spoke with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan,” his office said.
“The two agreed to return normalisation between the countries including returning ambassadors, and cancelling legal procedures against IDF (army) soldiers,” it said, referring to the high-profile trial in absentia of four top Israeli military chiefs by an Istanbul court that opened in November.
“The prime minister made it clear that the tragic results regarding the Mavi Marmara were unintentional and that Israel expresses regret over injuries and loss of life.
“In light of the Israeli investigation into the incident, which pointed out several operational errors, Prime Minister Netanyahu apologised to the Turkish people for any errors that could have led to loss of life and agreed to complete the agreement on compensation,” it said.
Netanyahu also “expressed regret over the deterioration in bilateral relations” and said he was committed to “working out the disagreements in order to advance peace and regional stability.”
The Israeli leader told Erdogan he had “good conversations with Obama about regional co-operation, and the importance of Turkey-Israel relations.”
Netanyahu also expressed “his appreciation” for an interview this week in which Erdogan said there had been a misunderstanding about comments he made branding Zionism “a crime against humanity.”
He also addressed the question of Israel’s blockade on Gaza, which has been in place since 2007 but significantly eased in recent years.
“Netanyahu also noted that Israel has removed several restrictions on the movement of civilians and goods in all of the Palestinian territories including Gaza and that will continue as long as the quiet will be maintained,” he said.
“Both leaders agreed to continue and work in order to improve the humanitarian situation in the Palestinian territories.”