Turkey Says Israeli Flotilla Raid Was 'Cause for War'

By the Associated Press | September 12, 2011 | 8:15 AM EDT

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister says Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla last year was "cause for war" but adds that his country had shown "patience" and refrained from taking any action.

Prime Minister Recep Erdogan's comments to Al-Jazeera television come as a rift between former allies Israel and Turkey has deepened over Israel's refusal to apologize for the attack that killed nine activists on board a Turkish ship trying to break Israeli naval blockade of Gaza. It also comes ahead of Erdogan's visit to Egypt on Monday, aimed at forging closer cooperation with the country whose relations have also grown tense in the past weeks.

Erdogan, who enjoys huge popularity in the Arab world because of his anti-Israeli stance, told Al-Jazeera that the raid occurred in international waters and was therefore "unlawful." His comments were carried by Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency late Sunday.

"This attack that took place in international waters is not within international laws," Erdogan said. "It is a cause for war, but we decided to act in line with Turkey's grandeur and showed patience."

An Israeli government spokesman was not immediately available for comment but Israel insists its naval commandos acted in self-defense after being attacked by some of the activists.

Israel has expressed regret for the loss of lives aboard the flotilla and said Tuesday it was time for the two countries to restore their former close ties.

A U.N. report into the raid, released earlier this month, said Israel's naval blockade was legitimate but accused the Israel of using "excessive and unreasonable" force.

Turkey has been angered over Israel's refusal to apologize for the raid.

In response, Turkey this month suspended its military ties with Israel, expelled top Israeli diplomats, pledged to campaign in support of the Palestinians' statehood bid, and vowed to send the Turkish navy to escort Gaza-bound aid ships in the future.