Erdoğan met with senior Israeli minister, Israeli media claims

Published 20.04.2016 12:15
Updated 20.04.2016 15:30
Israeli Minister of National Infrastructures, Yuval Steinitz (Reuters Photo)
Israeli Minister of National Infrastructures, Yuval Steinitz (Reuters Photo)

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan spoke with a senior Israeli minister on the sidelines of the 2016 Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, DC, held between March 31 and April 1, according to a report on Tuesday from the Israel-based i24news TV channel.

According to i24news, Erdoğan met with Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz for about 20 minutes, marking the first time that the Turkish president has personally met with an Israeli official since the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident. Diplomatic sources described the meeting as "more than a handshake."

The Israeli minister's office did not comment on the meeting, reported i24news Senior Diplomatic Correspondent Tal Shalev.

Israeli energy minister Steinitz has promoted reconciliation talks between Turkey and Israel in recent months, as there are energy issues which concern both countries.

According to a report in the Jerusalem Post, Steinitz said on Saturday that Turkey and Israel have reached an agreement on 90 percent of issues during diplomatic negotiations in recent months which aim toward a reconciliation between the two countries.

On April 7, Turkish presidential spokesperson İbrahim Kalın said that Turkey will not drop its demand for an end to the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip in order to normalize relations with Israel.

The Turkish Foreign Ministry said on April 7 that Turkish and Israeli delegations had made progress toward finalizing a deal. The ministry said Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Special Envoy Joseph Ciechanover and Acting Chairman-General Jacob Nagel of Israel's National Security Council met on April 7.

Sinirlioğlu met Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Dore Gold in Rome in June 2015 in efforts to normalize diplomatic relations.

There has been concrete progress over the last couple of months towards restoring bilateral relations long-stalled since the Mavi Marmara raid in 2010. A DAESH-linked bombing on March 19 in Istanbul that killed three Israelis led to cooperation between the countries, with high-level contacts between leaders in Ankara and Jerusalem for the first time in years.

Turkish and Israeli officials first met openly in December 2015 and reached a preliminary agreement to normalize relations, including the mutual return of ambassadors, after Israel agreed to pay $20 million in compensation to the relatives of the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid. During a meeting held in early February 2016, Turkish and Israeli officials discussed easing rather than lifting the blockade of Gaza, which Ankara aims to begin rebuilding.

The latest diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel dates back to May 2010 when Israeli commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara, a civilian vessel carrying humanitarian aid which was trying to break the Israeli blockade on Gaza, while it was in international waters.

The Israeli government took a step toward reconciliation on March 24, 2013, when Netanyahu, under the encouragement of U.S. President Barack Obama, apologized for the mishandling of the raid during a conference call with then-Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan. Since then, closed-door reconciliation talks have continued, but the agreement has been delayed due to local, general, presidential and early elections in Turkey, as well as Israel's attack on Gaza in 2014.

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