Turkey confirms reconciliation talks with Israel

News of negotiations comes two weeks after Erdogan’s ruling party loses its majority in parliament

File: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (screen capture: YouTube)
File: Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu (screen capture: YouTube)

Turkey on Wednesday said it was holding talks with Israel over a deal to reconcile the two former allies following a deadly Israeli commando raid on a Turkish aid vessel bound for Gaza in May 2010.

“It’s quite normal for the two countries to talk for the normalization of the ties. How can reconciliation be achieved without holding any meetings?” Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu told reporters in Ankara.

Cavusoglu’s comments came a day after Israel’s Haaretz daily reported that Israeli and Turkish officials had held secret talks in Rome on Monday in a bid to restore relations between the two countries.

Cavusoglu confirmed such a contact had been made and said, “These meetings are not new. Expert-level talks have been held between the two countries for a while.”

In 2010, Israeli commandos boarded the Turkish-flagged Mavi Marmara, the largest ship in an aid flotilla bound for the Gaza Strip. The boarding took place in international waters after the Israeli navy asked the ships to sail to the Ashdod port, where their cargo would be unloaded and transferred to Gaza by land after undergoing a security inspection.

The activists on board replied to the navy’s warning with threats and curses, including “Shut up. Go back to Auschwitz” and “We’re helping Arabs go against the US. Don’t forget 9/11.”

When Israeli troops boarded the vessel, a melee ensued, in which nine activists were killed and seven Israeli soldiers were wounded. A tenth activist died of his wounds in 2014 after having been hospitalized for four years in a coma.

The incident sparked widespread condemnation and provoked a major diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador, demanded a formal apology and compensation and an end to the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by the Palestinian group Hamas.

Talks on compensation began in 2013 after Israel extended a formal apology to Turkey in a breakthrough brokered by US President Barack Obama.

The Israeli government reportedly presented a deal to pay compensation to the families of the victims, but an agreement has not yet been forthcoming.

“The ball is in the court of the other side on our two demands [the lifting of the blockade on Gaza and the payment of compensation to the families],” Cavusoglu said.

“We are waiting for an answer from them. An agreement could perhaps have been reached much earlier but the process has been delayed because of the domestic balances of Israel,” he said.

The talks come two weeks after the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), co-founded by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan who is known for his angry outbursts at the Jewish state, lost its majority in parliament.

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