By SUZAN FRASER
In this photo provided by Turkish Presidency Press Service,Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul, left, and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, second right, seen during a meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, April 22, 2013. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry met with Abbas Sunday in Istanbul, in an effort to relaunch Mideast peace efforts, one of President Barack Obama’s foreign policy priorities.(AP Photo/irfan Yildiz)
ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Senior officials from Israel and Turkey on Monday discussed compensation payments for the victims of a deadly 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla — a key Turkish demand as the two former allies try to restore ties.
Eight Turks and one Turkish-American were killed and several other pro-Palestinian activists were wounded when Israeli commandos stormed the ship Mavi Marmara while stopping an international flotilla trying to breach a blockade of the Gaza Strip. The incident, which also wounded seven Israeli soldiers, increased tensions between the two countries that were once close allies and led to a freeze in ties.
Last month, U.S. President Barack Obama brokered a rapprochement between the two countries, both of which Washington regards as strategic partners in the turbulent Middle East. Israel offered an apology for the May 31, 2010, raid, and the Turkish and Israel leaders agreed to normalize ties.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has since warned, however, that the restoration of full-fledged diplomatic ties would be dependent on compensation for surviving victims of the flotilla raids the relatives of the dead, as well as on Israel ending all commercial restrictions on the Palestinians.
A delegation led by the Israeli prime minister’s national security adviser Yaakov Amidror and by Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu met in the Turkish capital, Ankara, for talks that could help start the process of restoring full diplomatic relations and exchanging ambassadors between the two countries.
In a move that could complicate the diplomatic efforts, victims’ relatives have objected to talks between Turkey and Israel until all restrictions imposed on Gaza are lifted. Although Israel lifted most restrictions on the import of goods into Gaza following the flotilla incident, restrictions on some construction materials and most exports remain in effect.
The families also vowed not to drop lawsuits filed against former Israeli military commanders Turkey holds responsible for the deaths — despite a Turkish pledge to withdraw legal action against the Israeli soldiers. Turkish prosecutors have demanded life in prison for the officers, although it is unlikely that any sentence could be carried out.
The Hamas militant group controls the Gaza Strip, while the Western-backed Palestinian Authority governs autonomous areas in the West Bank. The territories have been divided since Hamas seized Gaza in 2007.
Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian Authority president, was to hold talks Monday with Erdogan, who plans to visit the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip at the end of May. The planned visit, which is seen as a move that could strengthen Hamas, has raised concerns in Washington.
Both Israel and Abbas, whose Palestinian Authority is based in the West Bank, also oppose the Turkish leader’s planned visit to Gaza. Abbas, the internationally recognized leader of the Palestinians, is locked in a rivalry with Hamas, while Israel opposes any international recognition or support for the militant group.