By Sami Aboudi
CAIRO (Reuters) – Turkey said on Thursday it would escort aid ships to Gaza and would not allow a repetition of last year’s Israeli raid that killed nine Turks, setting the stage for a potential naval confrontation with its former ally.
Raising the stakes in Turkey’s row with Israel over its refusal to apologize for the killings, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera television that Turkey had taken steps to stop Israel from unilaterally exploiting natural resources in the Mediterranean.
“Turkish warships, in the first place, are authorized to protect our ships that carry humanitarian aid to Gaza,” Erdogan said in the interview, broadcast by Al Jazeera with an Arabic translation.
“From now on, we will not let these ships to be attacked by Israel, as what happened with the Freedom Flotilla,” Erdogan said.
Referring to Erdogan’s comments, Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said: “This is a statement well-worth not commenting on.”
Relations between Turkey and Israel, two close U.S. allies in the region, have soured since Israeli forces boarded the Gaza-bound Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.
Ankara downgraded ties and vowed to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean in the escalating row. Israel says it acted legally against ships that tried to breach its blockade on the Palestinian enclave which is ruled by the Islamist Hamas group.
Israel has said it will enforce the blockade, which it says is needed to prevent arms smuggling to Hamas.