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Israel and Turkey restore diplomatic relations after six years

ADEM ALTAN, AFP | Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim during a press conference on June 27, 2016, to announce a breakthrough Israel-Turkey deal

Israel and Turkey on Monday announced a reconciliation deal to end a bitter six-year rift between the Mideast powers.


In Rome, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal would help bring "stability" to the turbulent Middle East. His Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, made a simultaneous announcement in Ankara.

Relations between the once-close allies imploded six years ago after an Israeli naval raid killed nine Turks, including a dual American citizen, on board an aid ship trying to breach Israel's blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.

After the raid, the countries withdrew their ambassadors, largely cut security ties and have since maintained only low-level diplomatic relations.

Under Monday's deal, Israel and Turkey will restore full diplomatic relations, with ambassadors expected to return within several weeks.

Israel will pay $20 million in compensation for the families of people harmed in the naval raid, and it will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza through an Israeli port and to carry out a series of development projects in Gaza, particularly in water and electricity.

Netanyahu said it is a "clear" Israeli interest to help resolve Gaza's water and electricity woes.

In return, Turkey agreed to prevent legal claims against Israel over the raid, and to prevent any military action or fundraising in Turkey, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to Hamas. Turkey remains close ties with Hamas, an Islamic militant group that is sworn to Israel's destruction and is labeled a terrorist organisation by Israel and the West.

Even in their announcements, the two countries appeared to be at odds.

Yildirim said the deal, which will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza and engage in infrastructure investments to construct residential buildings and a hospital and to address energy and water shortages in Gaza amounted to a partial lifting of the Gaza blockade.

"The total embargo imposed on Palestine and on the Gaza region in particular, is to being lifted to a great extent through Turkey's leadership," Yildirim said.

He said a first Turkish ship, carrying more than 10,000 tons of aid, would depart for the Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday.

"With this deal, the process of returning ties to normal has begun," Yildirim said.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, said the blockade remains in place. He called the blockade a "top security interest."

The Israeli leader spoke in Rome, where he earlier in the day held talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry. The US top diplomat welcomed the agreement and congratulated Netanyahu. He said the US has been working on the rapprochement for several years, and called it a "positive step".

Energy ties

Restoring relations with Ankara is a linchpin in Israel’s strategy to unlock its natural gas wealth. It is looking for export markets and is exploring a pipeline to Turkey as one option, both for consumers there and as a connection to Europe.

“This is a strategic matter for the state of Israel. This matter could not have been advanced without this agreement, and now we will take action to advance it,” Netanyahu said.

Gas, he said, had the potential to strengthen Israel’s coffers “with a huge fortune”.

Shares in Turkey’s Zorlu Energy, which has activities in Israel, rose 11 percent on news of the agreement. Israeli energy stocks also rose in Tel Aviv.

Yildirim was more cautious.

“Firstly let normalisation begin and, after that, the level to which we cooperate on whatever subject will be tied to the efforts of the two countries,” he said. “There is no point in talking about these details now.”

A senior Turkish official described the agreement as a “diplomatic victory”, even though Israel pledged to maintain the Gaza blockade it says is needed to curb arms smuggling by Hamas, an Islamist group that last fought a war with Israel in 2014.

“Israel comes out on top here,” said Louis Fishman, assistant professor of history at Brooklyn College in New York, who specialises in Turkish and Israeli affairs.

“From the start it believed that a deal could be worked out where Turkish aid was able to enter the Gaza Strip under Israeli supervision. It seems this is what was struck.”


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