Israel to Return Turkish Ships From Flotilla, Davutoglu Says

Israel agreed to return to Turkey three vessels it seized in a raid on a flotilla carrying aid to the Gaza Strip, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said.

“This was in any case something Israel had to do,” the state-run news agency Anatolia quoted Davutoglu as telling reporters today during a visit to the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi. “We hope the other necessary steps will also be taken.”

Turkey has demanded that Israel submit to an international investigation into the May 31 raid, pay compensation and apologize to the families of the nine Turkish activists killed, as conditions for its restoration of full diplomatic relations with Israel. Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel and is still threatening to cut off relations completely if Israel doesn’t meet the demands.

Mark Regev, spokesman for the Israeli prime minister’s office, declined to comment on the issue of the Turkish ships when contacted by telephone today. Calls to an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman weren’t immediately returned.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said that there had been positive developments and the two sides were discussing technical details and timing of the vessels’ return, according to a spokeswoman who declined to be identified in keeping with department custom.

The Turkish citizens were killed after Israeli commandos raided one of six aid ships in a flotilla trying to breach Israel’s embargo of Gaza. Israel and Egypt loosened restrictions on road shipments into the Palestinian territory following international criticism of the operation.

Israel has rejected calls for an international inquiry and set up its own civilian and military probes.

Hamas in Control

Israel and Egypt have restricted shipments to Gaza since Hamas seized full control there in 2007 after winning Palestinian parliamentary elections the previous year. The Islamic group is considered a terrorist organization by the U.S., the European Union and Israel.

Palestinians, backed by the United Nations and human-rights groups, say the restrictions on food imports and construction materials have created a humanitarian crisis.

Israel’s Cabinet agreed on June 20 to allow in all foods and lift some restrictions on construction materials. Israel has said building supplies could be used to build rockets, bunkers or bombs.

Israel began a three-week military offensive in Gaza in December 2008 that it said was meant to stop the firing of rockets by Hamas and other Palestinian militants into its territory. More than 1,000 Palestinians and 13 Israelis were killed in the conflict.

More than 400 rockets and mortars have been fired from Gaza into Israel since the end of the war, killing a foreign worker, the Israeli army said.

Israeli bombing and ground operations during the offensive destroyed more than 3,000 homes, and Israel’s restrictions on construction materials have prevented Palestinians from being able to rebuild, the UN said.

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