INTERNATIONAL. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Monday he would not visit the Gaza Strip during his tour to Arab Spring countries.
"My visit to Gaza is out of the question. But I want to say that I long to visit Gaza," Erdogan said in televised remarks here before leaving Turkey for a visit to Egypt, Tunis and Libya.
"I long to visit Gaza in the shortest possible time," Erdogan added.
Erdogan has threatened to visit Gaza, entering via neighbouring Egypt, amid a new chill in Turkey's ties with Israel after the Jewish state's refusal to apologize for a deadly raid on a Turkish ship which killed nine people last year.
Ankara earlier this month expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military ties with Israel, including defence industry relations, in retaliation at Israel's refusal to apologize.
Erdogan further said that Turkish naval forces would accompany any Turkish aid vessel to the Gaza Strip, triggering a reaction from the Israeli side, describing it as a "grave and serious" threat.
On May 31 last year Israeli commandos boarded the flagship of a six-boat flotilla in international waters in a bid to stop it from breaching Israel's blockade on Gaza.
Israeli commandos killed eight Turkish nationals and one American with Turkish origins on the Mavi Marmara in the ensuing confrontation, sparking a diplomatic row between the two countries that has strained relations to breaking point.