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Israel Apologizes To Turkey Over Insult

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JERUSALEM — Israel on Wednesday caved in to demands from Turkey and apologized over an insult to its ambassador, a government statement said, an attempt to defuse the latest crisis between the two nations.

On Monday, Israel's deputy foreign minister, Danny Ayalon, summoned the Turkish ambassador to complain about a TV show. The ambassador was forced to sit on a low sofa without a handshake, while Ayalon explained to local TV stations that the humiliation was intentional.

Outraged, Turkey threatened to recall the ambassador.

Late Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said a letter of apology has been written, and the premier "hopes this will end the affair." Israeli officials said the letter was delivered to Turkish officials in Ankara.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accepted the apology.

"We have received the answer that we had been waiting for," he said.

The text of letter to the ambassador was released later Wednesday by Ayalon's office.

It said in part, "although we have our differences of opinion on several issues, they should be discussed and solved only through open, reciprocal and respectful diplomatic channels between our two governments. ... I had no intention to humiliate you personally and apologize for the way the demarche was handled and perceived."

The crisis erupted Monday, when Ayalon summoned the Turkish ambassador, Ahmet Oguz Celikkol, to complain about a Turkish television drama that has been perceived as anti-Semitic. The show, "The Valley of the Wolves," depicts Israeli security forces kidnapping children and shooting old men.

Ayalon's detailed explanation of his insult to Israeli TV crews in the room was made in Hebrew, and the ambassador did not react.

Asked Wednesday what would have happened if Ayalon had made the comments in English instead of Hebrew, Celikkol said, "The meeting would have ended there, and I would just have left." He was interviewed in Tel Aviv by Turkey's state-run Anatolia news agency.

Earlier Wednesday, Ayalon issued a statement admitting that his behavior was undiplomatic, but falling short of an apology. Turkey rejected that and threatened to withdraw its ambassador if a formal apology was not forthcoming.

Over the past decade, the two states had built up a strong relationship, including military cooperation and tourism, making Turkey Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world.

Lately, however, Israel has been troubled by harsh statements from Erdogan, who was outraged by the high Palestinian civilian death toll during Israel's Gaza offensive a year ago.

Israel is also concerned with a perception that Turkey is moving closer to Iran, considered by Israel as a strategic threat.

Days after the Gaza offensive began, Erdogan stalked off a stage he was sharing with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, with the parting shot: "You kill people."

Turkey also canceled a high-profile military exercise with Israel last fall.

Erdogan reignited tensions on Monday by accusing Israel of threatening world peace, just before Ayalon summoned Celikkol for the public insult.

The statement from Netanyahu's office was said the Israeli leader "supported the essence of (Ayalon's) protest but distanced himself from the inappropriate style." It expressed concern over the deterioration of relations between the two countries and said the Israeli government would work "to find ways to prevent the continuation of this trend."

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak is due to travel to Turkey on Sunday on a visit planned l before the two nations' diplomatic quarrel erupted.

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Associated Press Writer Selcan Hacaoglu contributed to this report from Ankara, Turkey.

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