In first since rapprochement, Turkish minister visits Israel
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In first since rapprochement, Turkish minister visits Israel

Tourism Minister Nabi Avci attends expo in Tel Aiv; Israeli counterpart says trip will lead to improved strategic cooperation

Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Nabi Avci, left, and Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin arrive for a press conference at the Israeli tourism conference in Tel Aviv, February 7, 2017. (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)
Turkish Minister of Culture and Tourism Nabi Avci, left, and Israeli Tourism Minister Yariv Levin arrive for a press conference at the Israeli tourism conference in Tel Aviv, February 7, 2017. (AFP/Gil Cohen-Magen)

In the first high-level visit since a rapprochement deal between the two countries mended a longstanding rift, a Turkish government minister arrived in Israel Tuesday to attend a regional tourism exhibition in Tel Aviv.

Turkish Tourism Minister Nabi Avci joined 15 other foreign ministers along with representatives from 58 countries around the world at the International Mediterranean Tourism Market 2017 expo.

He was welcomed by Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, who said the visit by the Turkish minister would bolster strategic ties between Israel and Turkey.

Relations between the former allies were nearly severed in 2010 following an Israeli naval raid on a Turkish flotilla trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. The raid, in which IDF commandos were attacked by activists on board, left 10 Turks dead and several soldiers wounded. Jerusalem and Ankara agreed on a reconciliation deal in June 2016.

Under the terms of the reconciliation agreement, Israel paid a “lump sum” of $20 million in compensation to the flotilla victims’ families. The deal stipulated that individual Israeli nationals will not be held criminally or financially liable for the 2010 incident. Israel also allowed Turkey to send aid to the Gaza Strip.

“It is the first visit by a Turkish minister since the normalization of relations between the two countries,” Levin said. “The bilateral relations between Israel and Turkey are an essential component to stability in the region and to economic progress. The visit by my Turkish colleague will lead to a series of measures that will strengthen the strategic ties between Israel and Turkey, which have enormous importance from a geopolitical and tourism point of view.”

Avci hailed Israeli tourists to Turkey, saying it was his country’s duty “to host tourists coming from Israel in the best possible way.”

A final key element in the reconciliation was the recent exchange of ambassadors, who were pulled out of Ankara and Tel Aviv in the wake of the crisis.

The mending of ties had been urged by the United States, which is keen to see its NATO ally, overwhelmingly Muslim Turkey, resume its previously tight relationship with Israel.

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