The U.N. panel investigating Israel's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla faces a major stalemate, with Turkey threatening to drop out over wording in a draft report that it sees as favoring the Israeli view.

Ankara's strong reaction to the draft wording, which falls short of saying Israel violated international law in the raid last year, has delayed the announcement of the panel's findings.

"There is a crack on the panel. The talks are not going well. There is a rough draft that is being worked on," a diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Thursday.

"U.N. panels always try to find a middle ground. It is very rare that one ends up blaming only one side. Both Israel and Turkey are trying to prove that they are 100 percent right," the source added, noting that the outcome might make both sides unhappy.

"We wish there was another way Turkey and Israel could solve this problem," the source said.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon set up the panel after Israeli soldiers raided the Mavi Marmara, the lead ship of an international flotilla trying to breach Israel's blockade of the Gaza strip, on May 31, 2010, leading to the death of 8 Turks and one American of Turkish descent. Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained ever since.

The panel is led by Geoffrey Palmer, the former prime minister of New Zealand and an expert in international maritime law.

Israel, in an unprecedented move, agreed to cooperate with the four-person panel, which includes one representative each from Turkey and Israel. The panel listened for the last time to the representatives of the two governments during the last week of April and was expected to make its findings public this month.

The first draft of the panel's report, which was handed to both sides prior to making it public, infuriated Turkey, which threatened to disassociate itself from the report unless radical changes were made.

The panel seems to be operating from the premise that Israel's maritime blockade on Gaza does not breach international law, the Daily News has learned from diplomatic sources.

This premise weakens Turkey's argument that Israel violated international law by attacking the flotilla in international waters. There is ongoing debate in the international arena on whether Israel's blockade is lawful and the issue remains one of the most controversial dimensions of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The first draft does, however, accuse Israel of resorting to excessive use of violence that led to the death of nine Turkish nationals. It asks Israel to pay compensation, one of the two conditions Turkey demanded be fulfilled to normalize ties with Israel. The early version of the draft does not include a call on Israel to apologize, which is Ankara's second condition.

The Turkish government blames behind-the-scenes interference from the United States for the outcome that it believes lets Israel off the hook.

Özdem Sandberk, a former diplomat who also served as deputy undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, is the Turkish member of the panel. Joseph Ciechanover is the Israeli member.

Turkey has long been Israel's most important ally in the Middle East and the two countries enjoyed good relations until Israel's deadly attack on the Gaza Strip during the last days of 2008, which drew criticism from Turkey.


35 members of the United States House of Representatives sent a letter to Turkish Premier Recep Tayyip Erdogan and asked him to stop Mavi Marmara ship's second trip to Gaza. Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) confirmed news reports about the letter but said that they were not the interlocutor. Turkish MFA underlined that the flotilla was a civil society initiative.



Members of the U.S. House of Representatives have called on the Turkish prime minister to discourage another aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip, saying he has a "unique opportunity to potentially save lives."

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and obtained by the Hürriyet Daily News through a congressional source late Wednesday night, 36 members of the U.S. Congress asked the prime minister to "work with the Israeli government in a productive way" to prevent the dispatching of the flotilla.

The ships were scheduled to leave from Turkey on May 31, the anniversary of a deadly attack on last year's Gaza-bound flotilla, but the trip has been postponed until sometime in July, according to a source in the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

"By finding a constructive solution as an alternative to another flotilla, you have a unique opportunity to potentially save lives and be a force for stability at a particularly volatile time," the letter reads, calling the plans for a new flotilla an attempt to "provoke a confrontation."

Both Democrats and Republicans have signed the letter, including the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Howard Berman, many of Berman's colleagues on the same committee and influential Democratic congressman Henry Waxman. Berman, who was formerly chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, twice managed to push through his committee a resolution that would acknowledge Armenian claims of genocide in the late days of the Ottoman Empire. Neither resolution was brought to a vote by the full House of Representatives.

Eight Turks and one Turkish-American traveling aboard the Mavi Marmara ship, which was carrying humanitarian supplies to Gaza as part of the aid flotilla last year, were killed by Israeli forces who boarded the ship in international waters. The Humanitarian Relief Foundation, İHH, a Turkish nongovernmental aid group that operates the Mavi Marmara, has said it is one of the 22 NGOs organizing a flotilla of 15 ships carrying 1,500 people this year.

Erdoğan's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, has previously said it has no control over NGOs and thus cannot prevent a flotilla from leaving Turkey.

"We are seeking your active participation in finding a resolution that prevents violence," the letter from the U.S. representatives reads. "We … hope that your government can help work out a mechanism with Israel to allow legitimate humanitarian assistance to go to Gaza without provoking a needless confrontation."

Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman Selçuk Ünal confirmed to the Daily News that the letter had been received.

"This is an initiative of a coalition of international NGOs that includes one or two NGOs from Turkey," Ünal said on the issue of the flotilla.

Another source from the Turkish Foreign Ministry that did not wish to be named said that the Turkish government is "not the recipient" of the letter.

"We are not supposed to give an answer because Turkey is not the recipient of this letter," the source told the Daily News, noting that the proposed flotilla is a civil-society initiative with participation from citizens from around the world.

In the aftermath of last year's flotilla raid, the U.S. Congress responded strongly, voicing its support for Israel's action and attacking the İHH as a possible "terrorist organization." In U.S. Senate Resolution No. 548 of the 111th Congress, passed in June 2010, the Senate resolved "to encourage the Government of Turkey to recognize the importance of continued strong relations with Israel and the necessity of closely scrutinizing organizations with potential ties to terrorist groups."

The Foreign Ministry source said, however, that Turkey sees the problems between Turkey and Israel as a "row between friends" that Turkey wishes to be solved quickly. But he also said that Turkey still expects an apology and reparations for Israel's soldiers killing Turkish citizens in international waters.

On Wednesday, the same day the congressional letter was sent, Erdoğan reiterated the three demands that his government posed to Israel after the fatal raid.

"I mean … three things: apology, compensation, and lifting of embargo on Gaza. It has to be lifted," Erdoğan was quoted as saying in an interview with U.S. television journalist Charlie Rose.


U.S. Ambassador to Turkey Francis J. Ricciardone said that the United States' assistance to Turkey in combating terrorism cost more than 1 million U.S. dollars a day, stating that terrorist organization PKK also knew it. U.S. unit, VQ-2, provides intelligence to Turkey in its fight against PKK. VQ-2's mission is to conduct airborne electronic reconnaissance to obtain information. The symbol of the fleet is a bat.


Terrorist organization PKK earlier gave signals on its web site that it would stage attacks on policemen. Police officers Gokmen Simsek (25) and Muharrem Unlu (29) were killed in an attack waged by terrorist organization PKK in Silopi town of southeastern province of Sirnak.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan attended famous U.S. broadcast journalist Charlie Rose's TV program on PBS and delivered important statements on foreign policy. Regarding Syrian President Bashar al-Asad, Erdogan said, "He might have been late in implementing reforms, however, it is too soon to call him to step down". Erdogan also emphasized that he did not consider Hamas a terrorist organization. "It is a resistance movement which tries to protect its country under invasion," he said.


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has toughened his line on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, saying he cannot deny his people's "indispensable requests for peace and democracy" as unrest continues around the neighboring country.

Al-Assad should take immediate democratic steps as the momentum toward democracy in the Middle East is "irreversible," Erdoğan, who maintains close ties with the Syria leader, said in an interview in Ankara with journalist Charlie Rose from the U.S. public-broadcasting channel PBS.

Turkey views the situation in Syria as almost "like a domestic affair" because of the 800-kilometer border between the two countries and their close relations, the prime minister said, calling al-Assad "a good friend of mine," Bloomberg reported.

The two leaders have had "long conversations" about changing the election system, permitting the formation of political parties and releasing political prisoners in Syria, Erdoğan told PBS.

In the Syrian city of Banias, protesters held up pictures of Erdoğan to salute him for his stand against what they perceive as al-Assad's iron-fisted policy toward opposition, Reuters reported. Erdoğan maintains close trade and diplomatic ties with Assad but has disputed the official Damascus account of the violence.

Syrian officials have blamed most of the violence on "armed terrorist groups," backed by Islamists and foreign agitators, and say about 100 soldiers and police have been killed.

The unrest spread this week to Aleppo, Syria's second-largest city, where Syrian security forces have broken up a demonstration by thousands of students, British broadcaster BBC reported on its website Thursday citing accounts of witnesses and activists.

The dormitory protest was thought to be the city's biggest so far. The students demanded an end to the military siege on other cities, including Homs, Daraa and Banias, the main flashpoints of dissent against al-Assad's government.

The United States on Wednesday called the crackdown on anti-regime protests "barbaric," the Associated Press reported.

In Washington, White House press secretary Jay Carney condemned the violence. "The Syrian government continues to follow the lead of its Iranian ally in resorting to brute force and flagrant violations of human rights and suppressing peaceful protests, and history is not on the side of this kind of action," he said.

State Department spokesman Mark Toner called the Syrian attacks "barbaric," adding, "We don't throw the word 'barbaric' around here very often."

Syrian security forces continue to crush dissent town-by-town and round up opposition leaders in an unrelenting crackdown, activists have said.

Analysts said the Obama administration is still reluctant to call for an end to al-Assad's increasingly repressive regime for fear that a revolution in Syria could bring chaos to a key part of the Middle East with significant repercussions for Lebanon, Iran and beyond, according to a report by Agence France-Presse.



Facebook is "ugly technology," the Turkish prime minister claimed, arguing any sort of immorality could be posted on the global social networking site for everyone to see.

"Facebook is ugly technology. Pages in Facebook are ugly and awful," Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Thursday at his party's election rally in Balıkesir, on the Aegean coast. Despite his criticisms against Facebook, Erdoğan has a page on the site, which was "liked" by more than 777,000 people.

Erdoğan's statement about Facebook came when he was slamming Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the Republican People's Party, or CHP, who accused one of his ministers of sending an e-mail to a senior bureaucrat for a personal demand.

"What is it about sending an e-mail? One could send an e-mail on behalf of you Kılıçdaroğlu," Erdoğan said. Recalling State Minister Hayati Yazıcı said the e-mail was a fake and sent to the bureaucrat by unanimous persons, Erdoğan also slammed the media over its large coverage of Kılıçdaroğlu's claims.

For Erdoğan, there is a systematic smear campaign by the coalition of oppositional parties especially on a scandal erupted around the university replacement exam. "Among the campaigners are the media as well. They are pumping up the campaign with their columns, TV programs everyday," he said, "The purpose is to blur the minds and garner votes."

As the court did not cancel the exam, Erdoğan said, he was expecting the members of these campaigners to feel ashamed but no one is blushing. "What is it with this talent of lying? If you want to see a walking lie, just look at Kılıçdaroğlu."


Speaking at his party's rally in central Anatolian Konya province, Republican People's Party (CHP) chairperson Kemal Kilicdaroglu replied to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's remarks calling him to disclose the name of the minister who had allegedly sent an e-mail (to Student Selection & Placement Center (OSYM)). Kilicdaroglu said Erdogan had himself confessed that he had not nominated several ministers and deputies as candidates for the upcoming elections, as they had been involved in acts of corruption. "Erdogan made this unbelievable confession in Luleburgaz. Without making any comments, I would like to address him with his own words: If you have any pride, disclose the names of these ministers and deputies," Kilicdaroglu said.

The main opposition Republican People's party (CHP) chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu called on Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to explain why some ministers were not included in the list of the candidates of Justice and Development (AK) Party. Kilicdaroglu said that Erdogan should announce names of ministers who were not included in the list because they were involved in acts of corruption.

Speaking at a gathering in central Anatolian province of Konya, Republican People's Party (CHP) chairperson Kemal Kilicdaroglu criticized Prime Minister Erdogan for not attending a TV program with him. "Those who act unfairly against people cannot stand in front of me. Look at the situation in USA, Britain or Japan. Leaders come together and citizens vote after watching them. If someone fears appearing on TV, there should be some dark points behind such attitude. I will drag down the masks," Kilicdaroglu said.


A delegation of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) will make a pre-electoral visit to Turkey on May 17-18.

The five-member delegation of PACE, led by Sweden's Kerstin Lundgren, will carry out a pre-electoral mission to Turkey, ahead of the parliamentary elections on June 12, to assess the electoral framework and campaign.

The delegation will meet the Speaker of the Parliament, representatives of political parties, the Chair of the Supreme Board of Elections, the Head of the EU delegation in Turkey, as well as the Turkish delegation to PACE. Talks are also scheduled with representatives of civil society and the media.

A full 30-member delegation from the Assembly will be in the country on the day of the vote to observe the elections.



Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu held a series of bilateral talks during the 121st meeting of Council of Europe (COE) Committee of Ministers and the Fourth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC-IV) in Istanbul.

He met Foreign Minister Audronius Azubalis of Lithuania and Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko of Ukraine who are currently in Istanbul to attend the meeting of COE Committee of Ministers.

Davutoglu also held talks with Palestinian Minister of International Cooperation Nabil Shaath, Algerian State Minister Abdelaziz Belkhadem, Angolan Foreign Minister Rebelo Chikoti and Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) Director-General Jacques Diouf on the sidelines of the UN conference.



Turkey's Parliament Speaker Mehmet Ali Sahin had a meeting with Khalifa Bin Ahmed Al Dhahrani, chairman of the Council of Representatives of Bahrain, in Ankara on Thursday.

After the meeting, Sahin said that Turkey monitored developments that took place in Bahrain in the recent period, stating that Turkey attached a great importance to stability and security in Bahrain. "We have said since the beginning that problems in Bahrain should be solved by dialogue and be based on reforms," he said.

Sahin said that they held talks with all regional countries especially Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Iran. "Last month Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited Bahrain and had meetings with king, prime minister, crown prince and foreign minister. He also met representatives of the opposition. Davutoglu told them that the issue should be solved by means of dialogue," Sahin said.

"Turkey believes that Bahraini people will overcome this difficult and sensitive period successfully and secure lasting stability and tranquility in the country. Turkey did its utmost in regard to the matter and it will keep exerting efforts," he said. Sahin added that Turkey aimed to boost its relations with Bahrain.

Al Dhahrani said that Turkey was important for Bahrain and for whole region. Al Dhahrani said that he would like to thank Turkey for its stance during the uprising in Bahrain, stating that Bahraini people and government would always remember the stance assumed by Turkey.

Parliament Speaker Sahin hosted a luncheon in honor of Al Dhahrani.



Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said there is a "black campaign" led by France and Germany to "destroy Turkish determination to become a member of the European Union," Bloomberg reported Thursday.

"They want Turkey to give up," Erdoğan said in an interview in Ankara with journalist Charlie Rose from the U.S. public broadcaster PBS that aired Wednesday night.

"Let me put it very clearly: France is number one, secondly Germany" in opposing Turkey's EU membership, he said.

Turkey has been "at the doors of the European Union for more than 50 years and there is still a European Union that does not accept Turkey as a member," Erdoğan said. He added that Turkey remains committed to joining, although the EU continues to "change the rules of the game."

"It's not honorable. They don't stick to their promises," he said.

'Hamas not a terrorist group'

In the same interview, Erdoğan also expressed his belief that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, saying he felt the recently penned Palestinian reconciliation agreement between Hamas and Fatah was an essential step toward Mideast peace.

Erdoğan's comments came one day after Hamas's Gaza strongman, Mahmoud Zahar, said that while his organization would accept a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders, it would never recognize Israel. He said this was because of the damage such a move would do to Palestinian refugees in the "diaspora," according to a report by Israeli newspaper Haaretz.

Commenting on the recently achieved unity agreement between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas, the Turkish prime minister said he did not feel Hamas was an obstacle in achieving Mideast peace.

"Let me give you a very clear message: I don't see Hamas as a terror organization. Hamas is a political party," Erdoğan told PBS. "It is a resistance movement trying to protect its country under occupation."


UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said that if a road map did not appear in the tripartite meeting scheduled to be held in July, UN could end its mission on the Cyprus issue. Turkish party has been insisting on a quinary conference to be held in regard to the Cyprus issue by the end of the year.

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