JERUSALEM - Israel will not apologise to Turkey for a May raid on a Turkish-led convoy that killed nine Turkish activists and talks to mend ties have so far fallen short, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Monday.
"They (Turkey) want an apology and we of course do not want to apologise. We are prepared to express regret, as we have, on the loss of life etc," he said in an interview on Israel's Channel 10 television, his first public comments on the talks.
"We want one thing: Foremost to protect our soldiers and our commannders ... that there will be Turkish recognition that Israel did not act with malice aforethought and that Israel's soldiers acted in self defence," Netanyahu said.
Israel's relations with Turkey plummeted after Israeli soldiers stormed the Mavi Marmara ship on May 31, part of a convoy attempting to bring supplies to the blockaded Gaza Strip.
Until recently Turkey and Israel had enjoyed close military and commercial ties but relations began to sour after a three-week Israeli offensive against Islamist militants in the Gaza Strip that started exactly two years ago.
Netanyahu broke his silence after his ultranationalist coalition partner, Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, poured scorn on Turkey's demand that Israel apologise for the killing of its nine citizens aboard the ship.
"I'm sorry to say a redeeming compromise formula still has not been found. We are continuing to try but public talk on this matter does not help," Netanyahu said.
Turkey has demanded that Israel formally apologise for the deaths of the activists. Envoys of the two countries met in Geneva earlier this month for rapprochement talks.
Netanyahu said Israel could not apologise, although it was willing to express regret at the loss of life. He added that it was important to protect the Israeli marines who stormed the ship from facing possible war crimes trials.