In an apparent protest of Israel, with whom Turkey recently downgraded diplomatic ties over last year's flotilla incident, Turkey's European Union Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış walked out of an international conference in Ukraine on Friday when Israeli President Shimon Peres was about to take the stage for a speech.
Bağış, who is in Ukraine to attend the eighth annual Yalta gathering with the theme of “Ukraine and the World: Common Challenges, Common Future,” left the meeting hall shortly before Peres began addressing the participants. The meeting at the historical Livadia Palace started with opening remarks by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Bağış listened to Yanukovych, but left the conference hall when Peres was invited to the stage and refused to listen to his speech.
Bağış's move is a reminiscent of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's conflict with Peres in 2009 at the World Economic Forum (WEF) in the Swiss ski resort town of Davos. During a session on Gaza, in which Erdoğan, Israeli President Peres, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa were panelists, Erdoğan stalked off the stage when a moderator, Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, cut off his remarks in response to an impassioned monologue by President Peres, who strongly defended Israel's offensive against Gaza, which claimed the lives of hundreds of innocent civilians and injured thousands of others.
Israeli policies towards Palestinians have strained once-solid Turkish-Israeli ties. Tensions peaked when in May 2010 Israeli commandos killed eight Turks and one Turkish-American on an aid ship trying to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza, enforced since 2007. Turkey announced earlier this month a set of measures against Israel, expelling the Israeli ambassador and suspending military agreements.
Ankara also vowed to take measures to ensure freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean, where last year's raid took place, and said it would seek a review of the Israeli blockade by the International Court of Justice. Erdoğan said last week that Turkish military ships will escort civilian aid ships to prevent a repetition of the 2010 raid, setting the stage for a military confrontation with Israel.