Turkey’s Erdogan: Talks with Israel to resume in May
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Turkey’s Erdogan: Talks with Israel to resume in May

President says new round of discussions to focus on electricity and water relief in Gaza, other humanitarian projects

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, is greeted by Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic outside the Government building in Zagreb, April 27, 2016. (AFP/STR)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, is greeted by Croatian Prime Minister Tihomir Oreskovic outside the Government building in Zagreb, April 27, 2016. (AFP/STR)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday that his envoys will meet with their Israeli counterparts next month in a final push to reach a reconciliation agreement between the two former allies, whose relationship soured over five years ago.

Erdogan, who was visiting the Croatian capital, Zagreb, told reporters that the two teams would discuss proposals for humanitarian relief to the Gaza Strip, including an offer to supply electricity from a ship docked in Israel.

The Turkish president said the two countries are looking at setting up a series of water and electricity supply projects in the Gaza Strip to fulfill Turkey’s terms for reconciliation.

One of Ankara’s key demands has been the removal of Israel’s partial blockade over the coastal enclave.

Israel says it maintains the blockade along with Egypt in order to prevent the Strip’s Hamas rulers, who avowedly seeks to destroy the Jewish state, from importing weaponry for use against Israel.

“We said that we could send a ship to [Israel’s] Ashdod port that can give energy and provide energy from there. They had some hesitations on the ship issue. They suggested to us to build a power plant together with the Germans. I wish that [the issue] would be solved,” Erdogan said, according to the Hurriyet news website.

The accord would come almost six years after a deadly 2010 IDF raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship attempting to breach the blockade. Ten Turkish citizens were killed during a melee aboard the vessel between knife- and club-wielding activists and Israeli commandos. The incident led to a nosedive in bilateral relations, which were already tense over Israel’s military policy in Gaza.

Turkey has demanded an immediate apology for the raid, compensation for the victims’ families and the lifting of the blockade on Gaza before normal relations can resume.

Israel only issued an official apology some three years later, mediated by US President Barack Obama. Talks on compensation have reached advanced stages, according to reports, but one of the main hurdles has been the lifting of the blockade.

According to a Haaretz report Thursday, a meeting between Turkish and Israeli negotiators three weeks ago in London was also attended by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s envoy Joseph Ciechanover and acting National Security Adviser Yaakov Nagel. The Turkish team was led by Turkish Foreign Ministry Under Secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu.

Earlier this month Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said most of the issues in a reconciliation agreement with Turkey have been ironed out and expressed hope that a deal would be finalized soon.

Speaking at a cultural event in Holon, Steinitz, who is considered a close ally of Netanyahu, said he did not want to go into the specifics of the emerging agreement but that both sides “have a considerable interest” in reaching terms.

Asked about the question of a seaport for the Gaza Strip, Steinitz said the issue had not been discussed in the talks.

Steinitz’s comments came two days after a senior adviser to Erdogan said that Israel had agreed to the opening of a naval route between Turkish Cyprus and Gaza.

The adviser, Arshad Hormuz, also told a Hamas-run media outlet in Gaza that Israel had agreed to fully lift the blockade on Gaza as part of the agreement between Jerusalem and Ankara.

There was no confirmation of the report from Israel.

Talks have also reportedly gotten hung up over Israeli demands for a commitment from Turkey to end tacit support for Hamas.

After several years of chilly ties and acrimonious accusations from both sides, officials met in December in secret talks to seek a rapprochement, with another round of high-level talks taking place in February in Geneva.

A bombing last month in Istanbul that killed three Israelis also led to cooperation between the countries and high-level contacts between leaders in Ankara and Jerusalem for the first time in years.

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