Wed | Aug 16, 2017

Reconciliation pact struck

Published:Tuesday | June 28, 2016 | 6:00 AM
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim
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JERUSALEM (AP):

Israel and Turkey struck a broad reconciliation pact on Monday that will restore full diplomatic relations after six years of animosity between the once-close Mideast powers.

The deal gave a welcome boost to the leaders of the two countries, both of whom have seen their international standing deteriorate in recent months. But differences remain over a root cause of the rift - Israel's blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip - and there's no indication the two countries will restore their once-close security ties.

Turkey also took steps towards improving strained ties with Moscow yesterday by expressing regret for bringing down a Russian plane near the border with Syria last year.

The agreement with Israel will include an exchange of ambassadors and Israeli compensation for the deaths of 10 Turkish citizens from a 2010 Israeli naval raid on an activist flotilla that aimed to breach the Gaza blockade. Turkey will also be allowed to bring relief supplies into Gaza and carry out new development projects there.

"The world is convulsing. The Middle East is convulsing. My policy is to create centres of stability in this unstable and stormy region," Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said as he announced details of the deal during an official visit to Rome.

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

Relations between Israel and Turkey began to decline soon after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party has Islamist roots, became prime minister in 2003.

Since then, Erdogan, who became president two years ago, has sought closer ties with Muslim nations in the region while trying to distance his country from Israel. Erdogan's close ties with Hamas, an Islamic Palestinian militant group sworn to Israel's destruction, further strained ties.

Relations took a sharp turn downward during Israel's three-week war against Hamas in Gaza in 2008 and 2009, when Erdogan criticised Israel over the high Palestinian death toll.

The animosity peaked on May 31, 2010, when Israeli commandos stormed a ship called the Mavi Marmara while stopping the international flotilla.

Under Monday's deal, Israel will pay $20 million in compensation for families of victims of the naval raid. In return, Turkey agreed to halt any legal claims connected to the raid. The countries are expected to exchange ambassadors within weeks.

In addition, Israel agreed to allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza through the Israeli port of Ashdod, where everything will undergo security checks before entering the territory.

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

"Therefore, the embargo there is being lifted under Turkey's leadership," he said.