ANKARA, Turkey – The Turkish prime minister furiously blamed Israel on Tuesday for a "bloody massacre" that killed nine people on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, and proclaimed that the two countries had reached a turning point in their long-standing alliance.
Turkey withdrew its ambassador to Israel immediately after the raid, scrapped three joint military exercises and called the U.N. Security Council to an emergency meeting that demanded an impartial investigation.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan told lawmakers in Parliamentthat the boarding of the Mediterranean flotilla and killing of at least four Turkish activists was an attack "on international law, the conscience of humanity and world peace."
"Today is a turning point in history. Nothing will be same again," Erdogan said, gesturing angrily and his voice shaking at times.
Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanded ahead of a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton that the United States condemn the raid, a measure the White House has not taken.
This predominantly Muslim and historically secular country has had decades of close military and trade ties with the U.S. and the Jewish state.
Turkey welcomed Jews fleeing Nazi persecution during the World War II and was among the first Muslim countries to recognize Israel in 1948. The Israeli and Turkish militaries work closely together — Israel recently completed an upgrade of Turkish tanks and warplanes worth more than $1 billion.
But relations between Israel's year-old right-leaning government and Turkey's Islamic-rooted administration, which took power in 2002, have been deteriorating since Israel's 2008-2009 war in Gaza.
Erdogan walked off the stage last year after berating Israel's President Shimon Peres at an international gathering in Davos, Switzerland, over the war in Gaza.
In January, Turkish Ambassador Oguz Celikkol was not greeted with a handshake and was forced to sit on a low sofa during a meeting in Israel with Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon, who later apologized.
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The killing of the Turkish activists by Israeli soldiers on a Turkish-flagged ship unleashed a new level of fury against Israel.
Thousands of pro-Islamic and nationalist Turks poured into the streets in Istanbul and Ankara Monday and protests continued on Tuesday outside Israeli diplomatic missions, with demonstrators carrying Palestinian and Turkish flags and shouting "down with Israel!"
"It is something inhumane," Ali Goktas, an 18-year-old air-conditioner repairman said in Ankara. "I would like to see a harsher Turkish government reaction in the face of such an attack against Turkish people."
Turkey's Foreign Ministry said four Turkish citizens were confirmed slain by Israeli commandos and another five were also believed to be Turks, although Israeli authorities were still trying to confirm their nationalities.
"This bloody massacre by Israel on ships that were taking humanitarian aid to Gaza deserves every kind of curse," Erdogan said angrily, demanding that Israel immediately halt its "inhumane" blockade of Gaza.
Organized by the Istanbul-based Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and Humanitarian Relief under the unofficial auspices of the Turkish government, the flotilla was the ninth attempt by sea to breach the three-year-old blockade of Gaza. Israel and Egypt imposed the blockade after the violent 2007 seizure by Hamas militants of Gaza, home to 1.5 million Palestinians. Israel allowed five seaborne aid shipments to get through but snapped the blockade shut after the 2008-2009 war.
Israeli officials have said the Turkish charity is merely a front and that the group is has links to al-Qaida and Hamas despite its operating legally in Turkey. The charity denies the charges.
Turkey's Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said Turkey would launch legal action in a Turkish court against Israel over the deadly raid.
There were signs, however, that the long-term strategic partnership between the Jewish state and its most important Muslim ally will endure: Turkey cancelled three joint land and sea exercises but appears to be otherwise maintaining deep military ties that include the planned delivery of $183 million worth of Israeli drone planes this summer.
Bilateral trade stands around $2.6 billion — roughly one percent of Turkey's overall trade.
Erdogan said the Israeli raid proved "how good they are at killing people."
"Israel in no way can legitimize this murder, it cannot wash its hands of this blood," Erdogan said.
Turkey has been increasingly assertive diplomatically in the Middle East, backing Iran's attempts to quash new U.N. sanctions over its nuclear program and trying to mediate Israeli talks with Syria, which demands the full withdrawal of Israeli troops from the Golan Heights as a condition for peace.
Erdogan has often said the world is turning a blind eye to Israel's nuclear program and that Iran's is being scrutinized because of its membership in the International Atomic Energy Agency whereas Israel, which has not signed a nonproliferation treaty, is "free to do what it wants."
Erdogan said Turkey would continue to support the Palestinian people.
"We will not turn our back on Palestine, Palestinians and Gaza," Erdogan said.
"No one should test Turkey's patience," he added. "Turkey's hostility is as strong as its friendship is valuable."
He urged Israelis to question the actions of their government.
"It is damaging your country's image by conducting banditry and piracy," Erdogan said. "It is damaging interests of Israel and your peace and safety. It is the Israeli people who must stop the Israeli government in the first place."
He said Israel cannot face the international community without expressing "regret."
"Israel cannot ensure its security by drawing the hatred of the entire world," the prime minister declared.
Turkey sent three planes to bring back some 20 Turks wounded during clashes that broke out when Israeli commandos raided the Turkish vessel. Erdogan said he had snubbed an Israeli offer to fly back the Turkish wounded.
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