A few dozen Israeli diplomat families in Ankara and Istanbul were instructed to return to Israel on Tuesday following the crisis in Israel-Turkey relations after the lethal raid on the Gaza flotilla. Some have already returned, others are expected to arrive during the day on Wednesday.
The Foreign Ministry stressed that this is a routine procedure in the case of security threats and fear of attacks on Israelis. The instruction was given as the "siege" on the Israeli consulate in Istanbul and on Israeli ambassador Gabi Levi's house, which began a few hours after the raid, continued into its second day.
On Tuesday the consulate and embassy were closed, while diplomats and their families remained stuck at home. Despite the instructions to evacuate families, Levi and his staff – as well as security personnel – are staying in Turkey, according to Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.
After the cabinet meeting Tuesday, Israel decided not to further inflame the situation with Ankara. Behind-the-scenes contacts have been maintained with the Turkish authorities, including coordination over the return of some 350 Turkish nationals arrested during the IDF takeover of the flotilla which left nine dead and many wounded.
Outside the ambassador's residence in Ankara (Photo: AP)
Faced with mounting international pressure, the cabinet also decided not to try to Turkish activists, even if they were involved in the attack on the IDF soldiers who boarded the flotilla vessels. Of the 682 detainees, some 380 Turkish nationals will return home by Thursday. The first 50 have already been transferred from the detention center in Beersheba to Ben Gurion International Airport.
In addition, 124 Arab nationals were transferred to Jordan overnight Tuesday, where they are expected to continue to their countries of origin (Jordan, Mauritania, Morocco, Kuwait, Syria, Pakistan and Indonesia). Some 45 other detainees have already flown home. The remainder are still in detention or in hospital.
During the cabinet meeting, it was agreed that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is behind the worsening of relations between his country and Israel. According to security sources, this is not an isolated incident, but part of an escalation developing since Operation Cast Lead.
"Erdogan is trying to draw closer to the Islamic world in an attempt to become a regional leader," according to the overview presented to ministers Tuesday. "He is drawing closer to the Syrians and Palestinians at Israel's expense."