Erdogan slams Israel, but insists both Fatah and Hamas back rapprochement
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Erdogan slams Israel, but insists both Fatah and Hamas back rapprochement

Hours after announcement of reconciliation deal, Turkey’s president blasts Israel’s ‘unlawful practices in Jerusalem and in Al-Aqsa’

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people gathered for a traditional "iftar" Muslim feast at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, June 27, 2016. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses people gathered for a traditional "iftar" Muslim feast at his palace in Ankara, Turkey, Monday, June 27, 2016. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar, Presidential Press Service, Pool via AP)

Hours after his country announced a reconciliation agreement with Israel, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Monday evening slammed Israel’s “unlawful practices” in Jerusalem.

However, he also said Turkey had consulted with the two main Palestinian factions during the talks with Israel that led to the deal. He spoke to the Western-backed Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday and met with Hamas chief Khaled Mashaal on Friday, Erdogan said at a traditional iftar dinner at his palace to break the daily Ramadan fast. “Both were favorable (to the agreement) and so we continued on our way.”

At the iftar dinner, Erdogan took aim at Israel, saying that despite the agreement, Turkey would continue to address the grievances of the Palestinians and object to “Israel’s unlawful practices in Jerusalem and in Al-Aqsa,” referring to the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem revered by Jews and Muslims.

The Turkish leader also thanked US President Barack Obama for his contributions to the reconciliation agreement.

Israel and Turkey announced earlier Monday the terms of a deal ending years of diplomatic stalemate between the eastern Mediterranean countries and heralding the normalization of ties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs the press on a reconciliation deal with Turkey on Monday, June 27, 2016 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu briefs the press on a reconciliation deal with Turkey on Monday, June 27, 2016 (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Addressing one of the most controversial aspects of the deal, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the maritime blockade on the Gaza Strip would remain in place following the deal but that Turkey would be able to send supplies to Gaza via the Israeli port of Ashdod.

“With this deal, the process of returning ties to normal has begun,” Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in Ankara.

Turkey said the first ship, carrying more than 10,000 tons of aid — including food and clothing — will depart for Israel on Friday. Yildirim said Turkey would immediately start working on electricity, water and housing projects in Gaza, and complete a 200-bed hospital there.

Both governments praised the agreement, but also took pains to argue that it was the other side, not their own, that was forced to compromise on the question of Gaza.

In his statement, delivered in Rome on Monday, Netanyahu said the agreement would secure the “continuation of the maritime security blockade off the Gaza Strip coast. This is a supreme security interest for us. I was not prepared to compromise on it.”

At the very same hour, his Turkish counterpart Yildirim told journalists in Ankara that the aid agreement meant that “the embargo there is being lifted under Turkey’s leadership. To this end, our first ship loaded with over 10,000 tons of humanitarian aid will leave for Israel’s Ashdod port on Friday.”

The deal also stipulates that Turkey will be allowed to build a power station and desalination plant in Gaza.

The deal will see the two countries exchange ambassadors “as soon as possible,” he said.

“We are returning to full normalization with Turkey, including the return of ambassadors,” Netanyahu affirmed.

Netanyahu said Turkey would also now not act to prevent Israeli participation in international forums of which it is a member, notably including NATO.

The Gaza blockade has been a key point of contention between the Erdogan and Netanyahu governments. Once tight, already frayed relations between Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded in 2010 after Israeli commandos staged a raid on a six-ship Turkish flotilla which was trying to breach Israel’s naval blockade of the Strip.

Turksih Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announces his country's rapprochement deal with Israel on Monday, June 27, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)
Turksih Prime Minister Binali Yildirim announces his country’s rapprochement deal with Israel on Monday, June 27, 2016 (screen capture: Channel 2)

The commandos were violently attacked by those on board the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, and nine Turkish citizens, including one with American citizenship, were killed in the ensuing melee. A tenth died of his wounds years later. Seven Israeli soldiers were injured in the raid.

Under the deal Israel will pay $20 million (18.14 million euros) in compensation to the families for the deaths caused in the commando raid, Yildirim confirmed. In return for the compensation, Turkey agreed not to take legal action against IDF soldiers involved in the incident.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, dismissed criticism by political opponents who denounced the paying of compensation to attackers of IDF soldiers as a national humiliation.

“Our vital interests are advanced by this deal,” he said. “I’m not entering a honeymoon. And I’m not presenting this agreement through rose-colored spectacles. But this agreement strengthens Israel.”

He said the deal could not have been done sooner, because “it took time” to achieve “the terms we needed.”

With the world and the region so volatile, he said, Israel needed to strengthen alliances with partners such as Greece, Cyprus, Russia, and now Turkey, “all this in full coordination” with its key ally, the United States.

Domestic opposition

In recent weeks the families of two soldiers whose bodies are believed to held by Hamas, and two Israelis thought to be in the captivity of the terrorist group, have campaigned for their return to be part of the deal. While no such guarantee was part of the agreement, Netanyahu said that Turkey has promised to help return the soldiers and captives from Gaza.

He said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had personally sent a letter pledging to do all he could on the matter.

Avraham Abera Mengistu, 29, a Jew of Ethiopian descent, has been held by Hamas for nearly two years. According to his family, he suffers from a mental illness and stumbled across the border into the coastal territory by accident in 2014.

A second Israeli man, a resident of a Bedouin community in the Negev, is also thought to be held by Hamas in Gaza. His name has not been released for publication. He, too, apparently crossed the border of his own volition, and has been described by family members as mentally disabled.

Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul were killed in separate incidents during Israel’s military offensive against Hamas in the summer of 2014. Though neither body was recovered, the army has classified both soldiers as “killed in action” based on forensic evidence. Hamas has claimed that are holding the remains of the two.

Reacting to Netanyahu’s announcement of the deal, Goldin’s family said in a statement that it “abandons Lt. Hadar Goldin and Sgt. Oron Shaul and doesn’t include the return of their bodies from Hamas captivity.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, Italy, June 27, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, Italy, June 27, 2016. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

“The prime minister’s declarations were hollow. He acted contrary to his promises to us,” said a statement from the family, calling the accord “a bad and problematic deal.”

Another key element of the deal is the strengthening of economic cooperation between Jerusalem and Ankara. Netanyahu said the deal would give a significant boost to the Israeli economy by opening the Turkish market, which lost a key source of energy imports when ties with Russia deteriorated last year, to Israeli natural gas exports. Turkey also served as another major gateway for Israeli goods to the European market, he said.

Yildirim, however, was notably cooler on the issue. Asked if the agreement provided for Israeli gas exports to Europe, he said, “We are talking about normalization of relations. Once the normalization starts it will be up to [the] two countries to decide to what extent they want to cooperate and on what issues.”

Earlier Monday, Netanyahu met in Rome with US Secretary of State John Kerry, who congratulated Israel and mentioned the United States’ contribution to the detente.

“I think when President Obama came to Israel, there was a famous phone call on the tarmac of the airport to Turkey, as we tried to move things forward,” Kerry said, recalling how the president urged Netanyahu to call Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and apologize for the flotilla incident. Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan was a key condition for the reconciliation deal.

“So this is coming full circle, and Mr. Prime Minister, I congratulate you. I know your team has been working long and hard at this. I think it’s a positive step, one of, I hope, the beginning of others,” Kerry said.

Agencies and Raphael Ahren contributed to his report.

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