Syrian FM Moallem
Photo: AP
Turkey to blame
Photo: AP

US faults Turks for canceling NATO air exercises

State Department gently criticizes Ankara for canceling NATO military exercise due to Israeli participation. Syrian FM lauds move, says it amounts to reprimand for Jewish state's 'occupation' of Arab lands

The United States has criticized Turkey gently for canceling a NATO military exercise because Israel also was participating.


Neither the Turks nor NATO has confirmed that Israel's participation in the exercises over Turkey was Ankara's reason for canceling it.


US State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said Tuesday, however, that "as to the question of whether there was a government that was invited to participate and then removed at the last minute, we think it's inappropriate for any nation to be removed from an exercise like this at the last minute."


He was asked whether that was what happened, and Israel was the spurned country. He confirmed both.


On the other side, Syria praised Turkey Tuesday for canceling the exercises that were to include Israel, saying it amounted to a reprimand for the country's "occupation" of Arab lands.


Syrian Defense Minister Ali Habib said Syria would hold military exercises with Turkey on Tuesday. "We held our first joint land military exercise (with Turkey) last spring. And today we have agreed to do a more comprehensive, a bigger one," he said during a news conference.


The Palestinian terror group Hamas also applauded the Turkish decision, saying other Muslim nations should take similar steps, including cutting ties with Israel.


Israeli defense officials have said the international military exercises, which were supposed to be held this week in Turkey and to include the US and NATO, were scrapped over Turkish opposition to Israel's participation.


Initially, Turkey said the reason was not political. But its foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, later linked the cancellation to Israel's war in the Gaza Strip last December and January.


Syrian Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem said Tuesday: "We encourage such cancellations as long as Israel is continuing its aggression and occupation." He made the comment during a press conference with Turkey's visiting foreign minister.


'Turkey important in region'

In Lebanon, a senior Hamas official, Ali Baraka, said Turkey's actions underlined its "responsibility" toward the Palestinians.


Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak on Tuesday tried to play down the tension with Turkey.


"Turkey is an important and central country in our region. Israel has had strategic relations with it for dozens of years," Barak said during a visit to the Czech Republic. "Despite the ups and downs of our relationship, the ties between both states are important to us and to the Turks and therefore the links between the states won't be harmed."


Turkey has long been the Jewish state's closest ally in the Muslim world. But ties have deteriorated since Israel's war against Hamas in Gaza.


Syria's own peace efforts with Israel, aimed at a return of the Golan Heights, have been stalled. Turkey mediated indirect Syrian-Israeli talks last year.


Reuters contributed to this report


פרסום ראשון: 10.13.09, 19:43
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