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Turkey’s FM lands in Israel for first visit in 15 years, in sign of thawing ties

Starting two-day trip, Mevlut Cavusoglu travels to Ramallah for meeting with PA leaders; will meet with Lapid on Wednesday; plans to visit Temple Mount without Israeli officials

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a joint statement with his Palestinian counterpart Riad al-Malki in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks during a joint statement with his Palestinian counterpart Riad al-Malki in the West Bank city of Ramallah, May 24, 2022. (AP Photo/Majdi Mohammed)

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu landed at Ben Gurion Airport on Tuesday for a two-day visit to Israel and the Palestinian Authority.

Cavusoglu’s landmark visit to Israel, the first such trip in around 15 years, came as Turkey’s relationship with Israel continues to thaw after a lengthy period of hostility.

Cavusoglu traveled directly to Ramallah after touching down to chair a joint committee on bilateral relations and meet with Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad Maliki. He is expected to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas later in the day.

Abbas will ask Cavusoglu to pressure Israel to stop “escalation” against the Palestinians, said senior PA diplomat Ahmad al-Deek.

“The message to the Israeli side will be: Cease all forms of escalation in the conflict, whether it’s the army’s incursions or shooting incidents, attacks by settlers, or raids at Al-Aqsa and the Flag March,” said al-Deek, a political adviser to al-Maliki.

Cavusoglu said in Ramallah that Turkey’s improved ties with Israel will not come at the expense of its commitment to the Palestinians.

“Our support for the Palestinian cause is completely independent of the course of our relations with Israel,” he said during a joint press conference with his counterpart al-Malki.

On Wednesday, Cavusoglu is scheduled to meet with Foreign Minister Yair Lapid. The two diplomats will give public statements together shortly before noon.

Cavusoglu will have lunch with Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov, and then will head to Jerusalem’s Old City for a private tour and a visit to the Temple Mount.

Cavusoglu plans to go to the Temple Mount compound and Al-Aqsa Mosque without any Israelis accompanying him, Kan news said.

A diplomatic official who spoke to The Times of Israel on Monday evening denied reports that the plan had caused tensions.

“Israel is a country with freedom of worship, and there is no problem with a Muslim making a private visit to the Temple Mount,” the official said.

Cavusoglu’s visit is the first by a Turkish foreign minister in 15 years, amid a push by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to mend ties with Israel.

President Isaac Herzog and Cavusoglu first announced the Turkish envoy’s planned trip to Israel in March, while Herzog was in Ankara.

Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw ties fray during Erdogan’s lengthy tenure, as the Turkish president has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.

Israel has been worried over Erdogan’s warm relations with Hamas, the terror group that controls the Gaza Strip.

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