Turkey expels Israeli envoy
Ankara - Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador to Ankara on Friday and suspended all military ties with its one-time ally after a UN report slammed the "excessive" force used in a raid on a Gaza aid flotilla.
A day after leaked extracts of the report into last year's commando raid appeared in the media, Turkey's foreign minister said that the government in Ankara had decided on a series of steps as a mark of protest.
And although the report has yet to be released, Turkey's President Abdullah Gul said that Ankara would reject it, regarding it as "null and void".
The Israeli government meanwhile indicated it would accept most of the findings, but claimed vindication over its right to impose a blockade on the Palestinian territory which is run by the Islamist movement Hamas.
Ambassador pulled put
Turkey pulled its ambassador out of Tel Aviv in the immediate aftermath of the raid and, speaking at a press conference in Ankara, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said ties would now be further downgraded.
"All officials over the level of second secretary, primarily the ambassador, will turn back to their country at the latest on Wednesday," he said.
"Second, all the military agreements between Israel and Turkey are suspended."
The foreign minister also said Ankara planned to challenge Israel's right to impose a blockade on the Gaza Strip before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the United Nations' highest court.
The measures announced by Turkey came after a leaked copy of the UN-mandated report criticised Israeli troops for using "excessive" and "unreasonable" force when boarding the ferry Mavi Marmara on May 31 2010, leading to the deaths of nine people.
Official release delayed
The report's official release has been delayed several times because of the failure of Turkey and Israel to agree a final version. A UN spokesperson said however that it was expected to be handed to secretary general Ban Ki-moon in coming days.
Turkey had been Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world, holding regular joint military exercises, but ties had been going steadily downhill since Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002.
They went into crisis when eight Turkish nationals and an American of Turkish descent died on the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of the six-vessel convoy, after Israeli special forces in speed boats and dropped from helicopters boarded it in international waters.
"Israel’s decision to board the vessels with such substantial force at a great distance from the blockade zone and with no final warning immediately prior to the boarding was excessive and unreasonable," said the inquiry, led by former New Zealand prime minister Geoffrey Palmer.
It said forensic evidence showed "most of the deceased were shot multiple times, including in the back, or at close range" and this has "not been adequately accounted for" by Israel.
It added, however, that the flotilla "acted recklessly in attempting to breach the naval blockade" and the Israeli "faced significant, organised and violent resistance from a group of passengers when they boarded the Mavi Marmara, requiring them to use force for their own protection".
The inquiry called on Israel to make "an appropriate statement of regret" for the raid and pay compensation to the families of the dead.
A senior Israeli official indicated that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government would accept the findings but with some reservations.
"We will announce our acceptance of the report after its official publication, with specific reservations," the official who declined to be identified said.
Report legalises the blockade
The official stressed that the report had declared legal Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian territory, according to the text published in the New York Times on Thursday.
"The report demonstrates that the naval blockade and its implementation conforms with international law," he said.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel the day after the raid and has consistently said that there can be no normalisation of ties without an apology and an end to the Gaza blockade, which it insists is illegal.
The report said Israel was entitled to impose the blockade and enforce it, but added: "The manner of its enforcement, however, raises serious issues of concern”.
Spokesperson for the Hamas rulers of Gaza, Sami Abu Zuhri, said the UN report was "unjust and unbalanced" and would allow Israel "to shirk its responsibilities".