Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak floated a watered-down apology to Turkey on Friday for the killing of nine of its citizens aboard an activist ship that tried to break the Gaza Strip siege.
Barak's public proposal appeared aimed at testing the depth of Israel's 13-month impasse with Ankara, and winning over more hawkish members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's coalition who say the onus should be on Turkey to make amends.
"We are willing to consider an apology over problems that arose during the operation on the Marmara, if there were any," Barak said from Washington where he discussed the importance of having the two U.S. allies mend ties.
"I don't like it, but it's the choice that needs to be," he said in a statement.
Turkey has long demanded Israel apologise for storming the Mavi Marmara aid ship in international waters, compensate those killed by Israeli troops, and end the blockade on the Palestinian territory.
Israel says a U.N. inquiry's findings, which are expected out next month "will support the killings of activists".
But Barak said the report commissioned by U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and authored by former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer would also include "elements that are very problematic for Israel".
Others Israeli officials have said the Palmer report would find fault with some of the navy's actions and could fuel prosecution attempts abroad.
A reconciliation deal with Turkey, Barak said, "would prevent lawsuits against officers and troops all over the world and cause less censure of Israel".
"The best lawyers in Israel ... recommend we reach an understanding with Turkey," Barak said, adding: "We are not apologising for using force and not apologising for the legality of the blockade."
International lawyers and human rights activists also accuse Israel of committing "genocide" through its crippling blockade of the Strip.
Gaza is still considered under Israeli occupation as Israel controls air, sea and land access to the Strip.
Netanyahu, who has yet to make a final decision on whether to meet Turkey's terms, has so far offered only expressions of "regret" and proposed setting up a fund for those bereaved or injured.
His advisers had previously said a formal apology and damages payments would be tantamount to Israel admitting culpability for the killings.
Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a July 25 press conference said it was "critical" to the region for Israel and Turkey to have good relations.
Barak's proposal seem to have a precedent in Israel's hedged apology for its jets' unauthorised transiting of Turkish territory en route to a secretive bombing run in Syria in 2007.
"If indeed Israeli planes entered Turkish airspace, then there was no intention of undermining or questioning Turkish sovereignty, which we respect," then Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said in broadcast remarks to the Israeli cabinet.
AgenciesLast Mod: 29 Temmuz 2011, 15:41