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Turkish Warships to Escort Any Gaza Aid Vessels

Erdogan says Turkey has taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean.

by Herb Keinon

Turkish warships will escort any Turkish aid vessels to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said in remarks broadcast on Al Jazeera television on Thursday.

Turkey-Israel ties have been strained by Israel's refusal to apologize for the deaths of 9 activists aboard the Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship Mavi Marmara in June, 2010. Erdogan also said that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources from the eastern Mediterranean, according to Al Jazeera's Arabic translation of excerpts of the interview, which was conducted in Turkish.

The comments from Erdogan came as Turkey has downgraded diplomatic ties with Israel and heated up rhetoric against the Jewish State in the aftermath of the publication of the UN Palmer Commission report on the Mavi Maramara raid and Israel's refusal to answer Turkish demands to apologize for the incident.

Erdogan, when asked Wednesday by reporters about the economic cost to Turkey of the sanctions the country has taken against Israel, said, “The cost could be $15 or $150 million. We, as Turkey, would not be bothered by this. What is important for us is that we don’t let anyone trample on our pride.”

Erdogan, who has rattled the saber by promising to step up naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean to ensure freedom of maritime traffic, and who has frozen all defense contracts with Israel, also used the opportunity to preach to Israel about business ethics.

He accused Israel of not providing maintenance for Heron unmanned aerial vehicles that Israel Aerospace Industries supplied to Turkey last year. In 2005, IAI and Elbit Systems won a $183m. contract to supply 10 Heron UAVs and associated systems to the Turkish Air Force. Deliveries were completed last year.

“Israel is not being loyal to bilateral agreements in the defense industry,” Turkish Today’s Zaman’s website quoted Erdogan as saying. “There could be difficulties, problems with another country, such things may happen, but there is an international code of ethics that needs to be upheld in business agreements.”

Turkey and Egypt will hold a joint naval exercise at the end of the year, according to an unconfirmed report in Egyptian news Web site 'Masrawy' Thursday. An unnamed Egyptian official told the web site the drill would help in the exchange of knowledge and combat techniques between the countries.

Erdogan will make an official visit to Cairo next week and meet with high-ranking Egyptian officials in a bid to strengthen strategic and business relations between the two countries.

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