Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan continued to speak out against Israel following the lethal IDF raid on the Gaza flotilla which left nine activists dead and many wounded. "Israel stands to lose its largest friend in the region if it doesn't change its mentality," he said during a conference of Turkish exporters.
"Turkey tried to maintain friendly relations," he said, "but the Israeli government didn't understand this and made a historic mistake. The mistake isn't just against Turkey, but against the citizens of 32 states. There were no arms aboard the vessel bringing humanitarian aid."
A "violent policy" like this will not lead to positive results, Erdogan said, adding that Turkey would not turn a blind eye to such violence.
He accused Israel of killing children and intentional bombing of schools and hospitals. "As long as this continues, we cannot ensure prosperity and stability in the region," he said.
Turkey's President Abdullah Gul added his voice to the criticism, saying "Israel is harming itself. It will suffer much more." During a tour of northern Turkey, he said that from now on, "Relations with Israel will never be the same."
Turkish citizens killed in raid are laid to rest (Photo: AFP)
The terrible results of the flotilla have not disheartened the organizers. The Free Gaza movement announced Thursday that it intends to organize another flotilla in September-October to break the blockade Israel is imposing on the Gaza Strip. The movement's spokesperson Greta Berlin said at least three vessels will take part in bringing humanitarian aid to Gaza.
Berlin noted that the Turkish organization IHH (Insani Yardim Vakfi), which Israel believes has links with al-Qaeda and other terror groups, is welcome to participate in the planned flotilla too. Berlin said that in addition to the "Rachel Corrie," named after the US activist killed by an Israeli bulldozer, there is another vessel making its way to the region, expected to reach Gaza at the beginning of next week.
IHH President Bulent Yildirim was among the hundreds of those deported from the six vessels raided by the IDF. Upon his return to Istanbul, Yildirim said activists on the largest vessel, the Marvi Marmara, had beaten IDF soldiers in self-defense. They grabbed the pistols of from the soldiers and threw them into the sea and beat the soldiers with clubs and chairs, he claimed.
"Even if we had used pistols, it would still have been legitimate self-defense," added Yildirim, who is an attorney by trade.
He noted that he intends to organize larger missions to Gaza, overland and by sea, if Israel refuses to lift the blockade. An IHH spokesman said group members are trying to identify five of the nine bodies of those killed in the raid. The other four have already been identified as Turkish nationals.
IHH leader and other deportees received a warm welcome in Turkey. Thousands waited for them at the airport in Istanbul with Palestinian and Turkish flags, calling "Allahu akbar", "Turkey is proud of you," and "Israel go to hell." The IHH was behind three of the six vessels in the flotilla, including the Marmara.