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Relations With Turkey In Question After Israeli Raid on Flotilla

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This is IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English.

Monday's raid on ships carrying pro-Palestinian activists brought international criticism of Israel. The ships loaded with aid tried to break a three-year-old Israeli blockade of Gaza. The raid in international waters led to violence on one of the six ships. Nine activists were killed.

But Greta Berlin of the Free Gaza Movement says the efforts will continue.

GRETA BERLIN: "We like to say we are non-violent, direct-action activists. And that simply means that when there is an injustice we will non-violently resist."

But video of Monday's raid shows that activists armed with clubs beat Israeli naval commandos. The military also released photos of a large number of knives that it said were on the ships.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the ship Mavi Marmara carried extremists.

BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: "Israel regrets the loss of life. But we will never apologize for defending ourselves."

Israel has rejected demands by the United Nations for an international investigation -- and an end to the blockade. But officials say the blockade might be eased to permit more civilian goods into Gaza. One and a half million Palestinians live in the narrow strip of land where most people depend on aid.

The blockade followed the violent takeover of Gaza by Hamas in two thousand seven. Israel says the purpose is to keep weapons out of Gaza and to prevent rocket fire into the Jewish state.

President Obama, speaking Thursday on CNN, said he recognized Israel's security concerns. But he called the raid tragic. He also expressed hope that the situation might be a chance to seek progress in the Middle East peace process.

The Cyprus-based Free Gaza Movement and a Turkish aid group known by the letters IHH organized the flotilla.

An American State Department spokesman said IHH representatives have met with top Hamas officials over the past three years. He said that was of "great concern" because the United States considers Hamas a terrorist organization.

Eight Turks and a Turkish-American died in the raid.

A Turkish official said Friday that economic and defense ties with Israel will be reduced. Turkish media say the government may also seek an international criminal case against Israel.

Egypt also enforces the embargo on Gaza. Observers say Egyptian leaders are deeply suspicious of Hamas. But the Turkish government invited a Hamas leader for talks in two thousand six after the party won Gaza elections.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Israel is close to losing what he called its "best friend" in the area. For almost twenty years, Turkey has built a political and military alliance with Israel.

But lately, observers say, Prime Minister Erdogan appears to be seeking influence with Arabs at the cost of relations with Israel. Some think he might be trying to avoid long-term damage, however. They say he knows having ties with Israel gives Turkey a special voice not only in Jerusalem but also in Washington.

And that's IN THE NEWS in VOA Special English, written by Brianna Blake with Robert Berger in Jerusalem and Dorian Jones in Istanbul. I’m Steve Ember.