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Turkish FM refuses to sit next to 'radical' Israeli minister

Turkey's Cavusoglu pulls out of Munich conference because seating arrangement places him next to Israel's Steinitz amid bilateral tensions
'Turkey's sensitivity was known by all, and it should not have been disregarded' (AA)

Turkey's Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu on Friday said he had cancelled a plan to attend the Munich security conference in protest at the inclusion of a "radical" Israeli minister in a session on the Middle East.

"I was going to participate in the conference but we decided not to after they included the Israeli representatives in the Middle East session," he told the official Anatolia news agency at a press conference in Berlin on Friday.

The foreign minister planned to attend the conference where around 20 heads of states, 60 foreign and defence ministers gathered.

Later Friday, Cavusoglu said at a televised interview at the Turkish Embassy in Berlin: "The seating arrangement was so that we would have to sit next to the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs (Yuval Steinitz). Everybody knows that Turkey-Israel relations have not been normalised yet. And he is such a radical minister as well."

"Turkey's sensitivity was known by all, and it should not have been disregarded," he added.

The move comes amid a drastic nosediving under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in relations between Israel and Turkey, which was once a key ally of Tel Aviv.

In 2009, the premier Erdogan famously walked off the stage at the World Economic Forum after an angry exchange with the then Israeli president, Shimon Peres, over Israel's military strikes against the Gaza Strip.

Relations further deteriorated when Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish nationals during a pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla seeking to bust Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza on 31 May 2010. A tenth Turkish aid activist later died of his wounds.

And during Israel's 2014 summer offensive against Gaza, Erdogan accused Tel Aviv of showing "Hitler-like fascism" against the Palestinians, accusing Israel of carrying out "state terrorism".

Erdogan also said that ties with Tel Aviv would not return to normal unless Israel ceased its deadly offensive on Palestinians and ended its blockade of Gaza.

Cavusoglu emphasised that the decision to pull out of the conference in Munich should not be seen as a move against Germany. "Our relationship with Germany is not limited with the Munich conference," he said.

Although the foreign minister will not attend the conference, Turkey will be represented by Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu at the event, Turkish Foreign Ministry sources said.