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Israeli Raid Dispute Threatens To Overshadow Asian Security Summit


Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (center) with his Pakistani and Afghan counterparts --Shah Mehmood Quresh (right) and Zalmai Rasul -- after their three-way talks in Istanbul today.
Turkey's foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoglu, has issued an ultimatum to Israel to accept an international probe into last week's deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy -- or face the prospect of drastically reduced relations.

Speaking at a 20-nation Asian security summit in Istanbul, he said normalization of ties between the two erstwhile allies would be "out of the question" if Israel maintained its opposition to an inquiry, which has been proposed by the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.

"Otherwise, it means that they have something to hide," Davutoglu said.

Ban has suggested establishing a commission of inquiry headed by the former New Zealand Prime Minister Geofrey Palmer, who is a specialist in maritime law.

Davutoglu's comments came as the continuing fallout from the May 31 incident -- in which nine Turks died after Israeli commandos stormed a six-boat flotilla -- threatened to dominate the two-day Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), hosted by Turkey.

The attendance of the Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas further raised the possibility that the raid would dominate the summit agenda.

'State Terrorism'

Abbas, who is due to meet Turkey's Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and its president, Abdullah Gul, has labeled the raid "state terrorism." Israel has also been invited to the conference but was expected to be represented only by its ambassador to Turkey, according to Turkish Foreign Ministry officials.

Turkey is seeking to use the event -- whose official theme is "enhanced political and security dialogue" -- to heap further condemnation on Israel, a goal expected to be eased by the arrival of two of the Jewish state's sworn enemies, President Mahmud Ahmadinejad of Iran and the Syrian president, Bashir al-Assad.

Turkey has demanded that Israel apologize over the raid, something Israeli officials refuse to do.

Three-Way Talks

Amid continuing outrage, however, the Turkish newspaper "Hurriyet" -- often sharply critical of Erdogan's Justice and Development Party government -- issued photos taken aboard the "Mavi Marmara," the main Turkish vessel in the flotilla, that appeared to support Israeli claims that their soldiers had been attacked. Some of the images showed Israeli commandos bloodied and having been apparently overpowered by activists on the ship. Commandos in some pictures appeared to have been disarmed.

Iran's Red Crescent said today that it planned to send two aid ships in an attempt to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza. The announcement came after an aide to the Iranian supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, said Iran was prepared to send Revolutionary Guards naval units to escort future convoys.

Today's conference -- the first CICA meeting since 2006 -- saw the resumption of three-way talks between the foreign ministers of Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Turkey as part of Turkish efforts to help the two troubled neighbors overcome their differences and cooperate against Islamist extremists.

After today's talks, Pakistan's Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi said his government's military operations in tribal areas near the Afghan border have forced some key Taliban leaders to flee Pakistan and Afghanistan.

He also said there has been a "dramatic shift" in Afghan-Pakistan relations recently, and that the Afghan and Pakistani governments are now "seeing eye-to-eye on many issues."

Afghan Foreign Minister Zalmay Rasul said the two countries will "work together to achieve a peaceful solution" to the violence in the region.

First established in 1999, CICA includes a diverse and sometimes mutually hostile group of countries and territories, including Russia, Iran, Afghanistan, Kazakhstan, Egypt, Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and South Korea. This year's conference will also be attended by the Afghan president, Hamid Karzai, and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin of Russia.

compiled from agency reports