ANKARA, Turkey (AP) – Turkey’s parliament called on the government Wednesday to review all ties with Israel as the country prepared a huge welcome home for hundreds of Turks detained after Israel’s bloody raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.
In Israel, all of the nearly 700 activists from the aid ships were at Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, waiting to be deported, airport officials said. Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein said Israel decided not to prosecute any of them, writing in an order Wednesday that “keeping them here would do more damage to the country’s vital interests than good.”
Israel has come under harsh international condemnation after its commandos stormed a six-ship aid flotilla Monday in international waters, setting off clashes that killed nine activists and wounded dozens. The activists were trying to break the three-year-old Israeli and Egyptian naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Turkish and Greek protesters were to fly home on special planes sent by their respective governments, while others from the nearly 20 nationalities on the ships were traveling home on commercial flights. A big homecoming rally to celebrate the activists was being held later Wednesday in Istanbul’s main square.
The commando raid has seriously strained ties between Israel and Turkey. Turkey withdrew its ambassador, scrapped war games with Israel and demanded a U.N. Security Council meeting on the clash as a result.
Hundreds of Turks protested Israel’s commando raid for a third day Wednesday and Israeli diplomats’ families began packing to leave following orders from the Israeli government.
The Turkish Parliament in Ankara held a heated debate on whether to impose military and economic sanctions on Israel. But lawmakers from Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s ruling Justice and Development Party objected to the measures, apparently trying to avoid aggravating the situation.
Still, in a statement approved by a show of hands, Turkish lawmakers said Israel must formally apologize for the raid, pay compensation to the victims and bring those responsible to justice.
“This attack was an open violation of United Nations rules and international law,” Deputy Parliament Speaker Guldal Mumcu said, reading out the declaration.
“Turkey should seek justice against Israel through national and international legal authorities,” the declaration said. “The parliament expects the Turkish government to revise the political, military and economic relations with Israel, and to take effective measures.”
Erdogan, meanwhile, chaired a security meeting Wednesday of the country’s top military commanders to discuss the Israeli raid as well as intensified Kurdish rebel attacks in the southeast.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Israel agreed not to charge the activists after Turkey applied diplomatic pressure.
“We have clearly stated that we would review our ties with Israel if all Turks not released by the end of the day,” Davutoglu told a news conference. “No one has the right to try people who were kidnapped in international waters.”
Davutoglu also called for an international commission to investigate the nine deaths in the Israeli commando raid and said two seriously injured Turks would remain in Israeli hospitals with a Turkish doctor.
More than 120 activists from a dozen Muslim nations without diplomatic relations with Israel were deported to Jordan before sunrise.
Also Wednesday, Egypt eased its blockade of Gaza after the assault and at the newly opened crossing in the border town of Rafah, about 300 Palestinians entered through Gaza’s main gateway to the outside world. A smaller number entered Gaza from Egypt and humanitarian aid also came in including blankets, tents and 13 power generators donated by Russia and Oman.
Gaza has been under an Israeli and Egyptian blockade since Hamas militants seized power in a violent takeover of the seaside strip in 2007. Egypt’s opening of the border was believed to be temporary, although the government did not say how long it would last.
In Ankara, Turkey’s interior minister, Besir Atalay, said Turkey had beefed up security to protect its Jewish minority as well as Israel’s diplomatic missions. He said security provisions were intensified at 20 points in Istanbul alone. The city has several synagogues and Jewish centers that serve 23,000 people.
“Our Jewish citizens are not foreigners here. They make up an essential part of our community. We have lived together for centuries, and we will continue to do so,” Davutoglu said.
In the past, there have been occasional attacks on Turkey’s Jewish community. In 2003, al-Qaida-linked suicide bombers attacked the British consulate, a British bank and two Jewish synagogues in Istanbul, killing 58 people. In 1986, gunmen killed 22 people in an attack on Istanbul’s Neve Shalom synagogue.
Most of Turkey’s Jews are descendants of people expelled from Spain in 1492 for refusing to convert to Christianity, and were welcomed by Ottoman Sultan Beyazit. Other Jews found refuge in Turkey after fleeing Nazi persecution during World War II.