Turkish warships will protect Gaza aid flotillas, Erdogan says

September 9, 2011 - 15:9
altTurkey says there will be no repetition of Israel’s May 2010 attack on the Gaza Freedom Flotilla since it plans to send warships to protect the next Gaza aid flotilla.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Thursday in an interview with the Al Jazeera TV network that Turkey has taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean, Reuters reported. 

"Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza," Erdogan said. 

He added, "From now on, we will not allow these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla." 

"We have humanitarian aid to be sent there. And our humanitarian aid will not be attacked anymore, as happened to the Mavi Marmara," he told the Al Jazeera.

"Turkish warships will be tasked with protecting the Turkish boats bringing humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip."

A senior Israeli official on Friday called Erdogan’s announcement as "harsh and serious".

"The things Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan said are harsh and serious, but I don't think it would be right to get into any verbal saber-rattling with him," Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor told Israeli Army Radio.

"Our silence is the best response. I hope this phenomenon will pass."

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been at their lowest ebb since Israeli forces attacked the Mavi Marmara, the flagship of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, on May 31, 2010 in the international waters, leaving nine Turkish activists dead.

Earlier this month, Ankara suspended its military ties with the Israeli regime and downgraded its diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to apologize to Turkey over the killing of its citizens. 

In addition to an apology, Turkey has demanded that Israel end the illegal blockade of the Gaza Strip, where Tel Aviv has besieged 1.6 million Palestinians in a 360-square-kilometer coastal territory. 

Erdogan said that Turkey will boost its naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean to challenge Israel's growing assertiveness in the Mediterranean Sea. 

In a reference to Israeli plans to exploit huge gas and oil reserves found beneath the Mediterranean that are claimed by Lebanon, Erdogan said Turkish forces would closely monitor international waters and had taken steps to prevent Israel’s unilateral exploitation of natural resources in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

On July 26, Hezbollah Secretary General Seyyed Hassan Nasrallah also warned Israel to keep its hands off Lebanon's offshore gas and oil reserves in its territorial waters. 

“We warn Israel against extending its hands to this area to steal Lebanon's resources from Lebanese waters,” he said. “Until Lebanon decides to exploit this area, Israel must be warned against extending its hands to it.” 

The Turkish prime minister stated, "You know that Israel has begun to declare that it has the right to act in exclusive economic areas in the Mediterranean." 

Elsewhere in his remarks, Erdogan said, "You will see that it will not be the owner of this right, because Turkey, as a guarantor of the Turkish republic of north Cyprus, has taken steps in the area, and it will be decisive and holding fast to the right to monitor international waters in the east Mediterranean," he added.