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Israeli foreign ministry warns recognition of Armenian "genocide" could threaten ties with Turkey

(Xinhua)

08:50, December 27, 2011

JERUSALEM, Dec. 26 (Xinhua) -- The Israeli Foreign Ministry warned that Israel's possible recognition of the so-called Armenian "genocide", which was discussed in a Knesset committee on Monday, could lead to a serious deterioration of Israel's ties with Turkey.

Lawmakers of the Knesset Education Committee on Monday debated whether Israel should officially recognize the killing of Armenians under the Ottoman rule during World War I.

Turkey hotly denies the "genocide" claim, saying that the victims were casualties of war and unrest and that the number of deaths were exaggerated.

The Israeli discussion came on the heels of the efforts in France to pass a bill that criminalizes denial of the "genocide" claim and stipulates penalties including up to one year's jail term and a fine of 45,000 euros.

Ankara last week recalled its ambassador to France in protest of the bill.

The Israeli foreign ministry has long held that realpolitic with Turkey trumped any official recognition of the "genocide", and that the 100-year-old issue is a matter to be decided "by historians, not politicians."

The ministry's officials have also averred that making such a symbolic gesture would only serve to worsen the already tense bilateral relations.

"This subject, given the current atmosphere, could deteriorate our ties with Turkey," a ministry representative told the group of parliamentarians, according to the Haaretz daily.

"Our relationship with Turkey is very fragile and sensitive right now, and we cannot cross the line -- we must approach the subject intelligently. Such a decision could have very serious strategic consequences," he said, echoing a view held by the prime minister's office.

But on Sunday, Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin overruled a request by the National Security Council Chairman Yaakov Amidror to put off the session.

"Diplomatic considerations, however important they may be, do not allow us to deny the catastrophe of another nation. We are not referring to the current Turkish government or to the current political situation, but to a historical event that should be made known so that it will not happen again. The state of Israel aspires to restore friendly relations with Turkey, and I do not see why the commemoration of the Armenian catastrophe should prevent this," Rivlin said.

Turkey and Armenia have been bogged down in a dispute over the World War I-era deaths of Armenians under the Ottoman rule. Armenia says the deaths occurred in a "genocide," while Turkey denies the charge and insists that the Armenians were victims of widespread chaos and governmental breakdown as the Ottoman Empire collapsed before modern Turkey was created.

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