Ankara says UN report delayed at Israel’s request

Selçuk Ünal

August 22, 2011, Monday/ 16:59:00

Amidst debates over a much-delayed UN report assessing an Israeli raid on Gaza-bound activist ship Mavi Marmara last year, Turkish officials have stated that the report has been delayed yet again at the request of Israel.

“Much like in the previous instances, the request for the delay came from Israel,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Selçuk Ünal told the Anatolia news agency, confirming speculation that the report was going to face another delay. Separately, a senior diplomat on Monday confirmed that the request came from Israel, as the report contained information that cast the Israeli raid in a negative light and made it unacceptable. However, the diplomat, speaking to Today’s Zaman on condition of anonymity, acknowledged that “just like in every UN report, there are things that will not be pleasant for either side,” predicting that the release of the report will further risk the stabilization of relations between Turkey and Israel, which are at their lowest due to the killings aboard the aid ship.

In sharp contrast of the statements by the Turkish Foreign Ministry, Israeli media on Sunday published reports citing Israeli diplomatic sources as saying that the UN report could be postponed upon Turkey’s request -- a request which was backed by the US government and faced no opposition from Israel. The same sources also acknowledged that the delay would make it possible to start a fresh chapter of negotiations between Turkey and Israel, whose relations failed to normalize after the Mavi Marmara raid took place in May 2010.

The UN assessment titled the “Palmer Report” was expected to come out on Tuesday, clarifying the incidents aboard the humanitarian aid ship, which set sail from Turkey in May last year but was aggressively stopped by Israeli commandoes, resulting in the deaths of nine peace activists aboard the ship. Along the heated process of warming up relations between Israel and Turkey, the Palmer report has faced multiple delays since its initial date of release in February this year to allow the countries to reconcile. However, while Turkey considers a formal apology and compensation for the loss of life on the boat as necessary conditions, Israel defends the killings as self defense and pleas that the charity campaign was an attempt to intimidate Israel triggered by the Turkish government, which vehemently denies involvement in the process.

Israeli media last week reported that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was firm in his refusal to issue an apology in a phone conversation with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who has been pushing the countries for a quick settlement of the dispute.

The Palmer report consists of an assessment of the tragic deaths of the eight Turkish and one Turkish-American peace activists aboard the Mavi Marmara on May 31, as the ship steered toward Gaza with humanitarian aid supplies with the aim of infiltrating the Gaza blockade. The Israeli administration defends the blockade, saying that it serves the purpose of stopping arms from reaching Hamas, which is hostile to the Israeli political body.

The blockade has been strongly criticized by the UN and Turkey, as it defied international laws and endangered the civilians of Gaza, who already suffer from economic turbulence and a shortage of medical and food supplies. The panel preparing the report consists of former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer, who is chairman of the UN’s investigative panel, and Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, as vice chairman, as well as Israel’s Joseph Ciechanover and Turkey’s Özdem Sanberk.

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