ISTANBUL – Thousands of Israeli tourists have cancelled reservations to Turkey after a deadly Israeli raid on aid ships bound for Gaza, the Turkish press Wednesday quoted Turkey’s tourism minister as saying.
Monday’s raid, which killed nine activists, including at least four Turks, has plunged the already fragile Turkish-Israeli ties into crisis, with Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling the attack a “bloody massacre.”
In comments carried in several newspapers, Tourism Minister Ertugrul Gunay estimated that some 10,000-20,000 reservations by Israeli tourists had so far been scrapped.
“There are some reservation cancellations especially in the aftermath of (the raid). We understand this,” Gunay said, expressing confidence that the sector would eventually recover from the current crisis.
“Turkey is a close destination in the Middle East for Israeli citizens to visit and holiday safely. This will still be the case in the future,” he said. “We have no problems with the Israeli people.”
The cancellations follow a bad season last year when the number of Israeli tourists dropped after Erdogan’s memorable outburst at Israeli President Shimon Peres at an international gathering over Israel’s operations in Gaza.
In 2009, 311,000 Israeli tourists visited Turkey, compared to 558,000 in 2008, according to official figures cited by the press.
An infuriated Turkey recalled its ambassador and scrapped joint war games with Israel Monday after Israeli forces stormed a flotilla of ships carrying supplies to the Gaza Strip, which has been under a blockade since 2007.
Most of the violence occured on the Turkish ferry, Mavi Marmara, carrying come 600 pro-Palestinian activists from 33 countries.
On Tuesday, Erdogan said Israel must be punished for the raid and urged international sanctions against the Jewish state’s “lawlessness.”