News24

Israel won't apologise for ship raid

2010-07-06 19:46

Helsinki - Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman on Tuesday said Israel had no intention of apologising for a deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in which nine people died.

Lieberman's comments, during a visit to Helsinki, came ahead of a much anticipated meeting in Washington between US President Barack Obama and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

It also followed Turkey's insistence earlier Tuesday that Israel should apologise for the May 31 raid.

Nine pro-Palestinian activists - eight Turks and a dual Turkish-US national - were killed in the assault.

"We don't have any intention... to apologise. We think it is maybe much better to downplay the issue," Lieberman said.

"We've had for many years very friendly and very stable relations with Turkey," he added.

Lieberman also stressed that Israel's relations with the United States were "very good."

The Washington meeting is meant to help put an end to an unusual public rift over Israeli settlement building and help invigorate the Jewish state's peace talks with the Palestinians.

"As between friends, sometimes we have some disputes and misunderstandings," Lieberman said, referring to the US.

Earlier Tuesday Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in a television interview that Israel must apologise for the May 31 bloodshed and pay compensation.

"Israel should either apologise and pay compensation unilaterally as a result of its own inquiry... or if it does not want to do that... it should wait for the results of (a probe by) an international commission," Davutoglu told the TGRT channel Tuesday.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ruled out an apology and a senior government official reiterated Monday that "Israel will never apologise for defending its citizens."

Lieberman, speaking in Helsinki, also warned that Iran's ambitions to obtain nuclear weapons could set off "a crazy nuclear arms race" in the Middle East.

"You must understand that if Iranians gain nuclear capability, we will see a crazy nuclear arms race in the whole Middle East with consequences I don't even want to think about," he told reporters in the Finnish capital.

Iran's nuclear ambition "is the biggest threat to the Gulf countries, it's the biggest threat to the Middle East," he added at the joint press conference with his Finnish counterpart Alexander Stubb at the end of a one-day visit.

Israel, which has the Middle East's sole if undeclared nuclear arsenal, has backed US-led efforts to prevent Iran developing a nuclear weapons capability through sanctions, but has also refused to rule out military force.

Iran insists that its nuclear programme is aimed solely at peaceful purposes.