JERUSALEM – Spurred by President Obama as he concluded his three-day visit to Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu formally apologized to Turkey over the 2010 killing by Israeli soldiers of nine Turkish activists aboard a Gaza Strip-bound protest ship, U.S. and Israeli officials said Friday.
The apology, made during a 30-minute telephone call to Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan as Obama looked on, clears the way for a diplomatic reconciliation between the two former allies, whose ties were largely frozen after the high-seas incident. Erdogan said he would not restore relations until Israel apologized and compensated the families of those killed.
“We attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security,” Obama said in a statement Friday as he left Israel.
U.S. officials have been trying to negotiate a rapprochement for two years, stressing that Israel and Turkey should be working together to address pressing regional threats, particularly the growing unrest in neighboring Syria.
Previously Israel had resisted calls to apologize, saying the activists aboard the Mavi Marmara flotilla were responsible for their deaths because they violently resisted Israeli commandos who seized the ship as it attempted to break Israel’s naval blockade around Gaza.
During the telephone conversation, placed in a trailer at the Ben Gurion International Airport shortly before Obama flew out of the country, Netanyahu acknowledged “operational mistakes” and Erdogan accepted the apology, a U.S. official said.
Israeli officials said their government promised to pay agreed-upon compensation to the families of the activists. In return, Turkey will drop its legal claims against the soldiers, Israeli officials said.
The two countries agreed to normalize relations, including reinstating ambassadors.