Berkley blames Turkey for Gaza flotilla deaths

WASHINGTON — Rep. Shelley Berkley said Wednesday that she is laying blame on Turkey for the nine deaths aboard the ship that was stopped by Israeli soldiers on its way to deliver materials to Gaza last month.

Israel faces international condemnation for the May 31 incident. But Berkley, D-Nev., maintained that the chief U.S. ally in the Middle East was set up by the Turkish government, which sanctioned the six-ship flotilla that tried to sail through an embargo that Israel has imposed on the Palestinian territory.

“As far as I am concerned, Turkey is responsible for the nine deaths aboard that ship, not Israel,” Berkley said. “If Israel is at fault in any way it is for falling into the trap that was set for them by Turkey.”

Berkley said she previously welcomed officials from the Turkish Embassy, but when an intermediary called to set up a meeting presumably to discuss the incident, she turned them away.

“I know Turkey is on a charm offensive this week,” she said. “So when I got a call yesterday, I made my position very well-known. They will not be welcome in my office until I see a change in policy.”

At a news conference, Berkley and five other pro-Israel lawmakers charged that Turkey, a member of NATO, has taken a dangerous turn toward Iran that puts U.S. interests in jeopardy, including Turkish opposition to new sanctions against the Iranian government over its pursuit of nuclear materials.

Israel imposed a blockade on the Gaza Strip in an effort to stop shipments of materials that could be used in the Hamas-run territory to make weapons for use against neighboring Israelis. The operators of the six-ship flotilla said they were delivering humanitarian aid.

Israeli commandos boarded five ships without incident but were met with resistance when they rappelled onto the Mavi Marmara. Eight Turkish citizens and a U.S.-Turkish national were killed in the confrontation.

Berkley was among 126 lawmakers who signed a letter this week warning President Barack Obama that the United States should deflect any anti-Israel resolutions in the United Nations, including efforts to establish an international investigation. The lawmakers insist the U.N. is hopelessly biased against Israel.

Berkley said the Obama administration is not blameless. She said Arab nations take notice when the United States and Israel fall out .

“When nations like Turkey and Iran and Syria see a little sunlight between Israel and the United States, I think it emboldens them to do things like this flotilla,” she said.