Israel and Turkey restore diplomatic relations after six-year split

Israel and Turkey announced a deal Monday to fully restores diplomatic ties, including the exchange of ambassadors, six years after an acrimonious rupture between the historic allies.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the agreement would bring "stability" to the region, while his Turkish counterpart praised it as benefiting "our nation and the Palestinians."

Ties ruptured in 2010, when Israeli naval commandos raided a pro-Palestinian aid flotilla as it headed to the blockaded Gaza Strip. Nine Turkish nationals were killed on the ship Mavi Marmara.

In response, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and scaled back military and economic cooperation with its key non-Arab partner in the Middle East.

Under the deal secured in Rome on Sunday after months of talks, Israel met Turkey's demand to compensate the families of Turkish casualties by contributing 20 million dollars to a victims' fund.

Ankara, in turn, will drop criminal charges against Israeli soldiers involved in the Mavi Marmara affair.

Turkey will also be allowed to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza, via Israel, and invest in infrastructure projects in the strip, including a hospital, power plant and projects to tackle Gaza's water crisis.

Ankara said that a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid for the Gaza Strip will depart for the Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday.

"I hope this agreement will benefit our nation and the Palestinians, who have suffered a lot," Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said in a televised address from Ankara.

He said the two countries would reappoint ambassadors on Tuesday, the day the deal was expected to be officially signed.

"The world is in turmoil. The Middle East is in turmoil. And my goal as prime minister is to create focus points of stability in this volatile and stormy region," Netanyahu said in a speech from Rome.

"We are two large powers in the region and the break between us didn't benefit either of our mutual interests," he continued.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who was in Jerusalem, hailed the breakthrough.

"I welcome the normalization of Israel-Turkey relations. It's an important and hopeful signal for the stability of the region," he said.

Netanyahu emphasized the economic advantages of improved relations with Turkey. Israel hopes to become a main energy supplier to Turkey, especially through lucrative natural gas contracts.

"Gas is very important and it allows the possibility to strengthen the Israeli economy," he said. "We are talking here about huge sums."

Turkey imports much of its natural gas from Russia, but recent tensions with Moscow over the war in Syria have Ankara eyeing other sources.

Netanyahu said the reconciliation was reached "in full coordination with our ally the United States."

US Secretary of State John Kerry, meeting Netanyahu in Rome earlier Monday, welcomed the deal, saying, "we obviously have been encouraging a movement towards the resolution of the differences between Turkey and Israel."

Both Turkey and Israel are US allies, and Washington has been keen to see the governments reconcile. In 2013, Netanyahu, under pressure from the Obama administration, expressed regret for the loss of life on the aid flotilla.

As the two leaders were trumpeting their achievement, critics in both countries were slamming it.

Ankara faces criticism that it capitulated on its demand for a full lifting of Israeli restrictions on the movement of goods and people in and out of Gaza, noting that deliveries must first go through Israel for security checks.

Gaza is controlled by the Islamist Hamas movement, which calls for the destruction of Israel.

Since 2010, Israel has restricted "dual-use" items, like cement and pipes, which can be used for civilian purposes but also for building attack tunnels and rockets. The entry of such goods remains supervised by Israel and there is a naval blockade of the strip.

In Israel, former minister Gideon Sahar tweeted that it was a "national humiliation" that Israel agreed to compensate the nine Turkish nationals killed.

Beirut-based Hamas leader Osama Hamdan said on his Facebook page that Turkey's agreement with Israel was a Turkish affair, in which Hamas was not interfering. He said that, contrary to reports, Hamas did not welcome the deal.

Last update: Mon, 27/06/2016 - 16:49
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