Israel and Turkey announce reconciliation deal to end six-year rift

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it opened the way for possible Israeli gas supplies to Europe via Turkey

Ercan Gurses,Jeffrey Heller
Monday 27 June 2016 15:54
Israel and Turkey reach deal to restore relations

Israel and Turkey have announced they would normalise ties after a six-year rupture, a rare rapprochement in the divided Middle East driven by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals as well as mutual fears over growing security risks.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim said the two countries would exchange ambassadors as soon as possible. The mending in relations between the once-firm allies after years of negotiations raises the prospect of eventual cooperation to exploit natural gas reserves worth hundreds of billions of dollars under the eastern Mediterranean, officials have said.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said it opened the way for possible Israeli gas supplies to Europe via Turkey. The move also comes as the Middle East is polarised by Syria's civil war and as the rise of Isis threatens regional security, leaving both countries in need of new alliances.

Relations between Israel and what was once its only Muslim ally crumbled after Israeli marines stormed an aid ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip and killed 10 Turkish activists on board.

Speaking after meeting US Secretary of State John Kerry in Rome, Mr Netanyahu said the agreement was an important step. “It has also immense implications for the Israeli economy, and I use that word advisedly,” he told reporters.

Mr Kerry welcomed the deal, saying, “We are obviously pleased in the administration. This is a step we wanted to see happen.”

Turkey expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a 2011 UN report into the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara largely exonerated the Jewish state. Israel and NATO member Turkey, which both border Syria, reduced intelligence sharing and cancelled joint military exercises.

Mr Netanyahu made clear the naval blockade of Gaza, which Ankara had wanted lifted under the deal, would remain in force, although humanitarian aid could continue to be transferred to Gaza via Israeli ports.

“This is a supreme security interest of ours. I was not willing to compromise on it. This interest is essential to prevent the force-buildup by Hamas and it remains as has been and is,” the Israeli Prime Minister said.

But Mr Yildirim said the “wholesale” blockade of Gaza was largely lifted under the deal, enabling Turkey to deliver humanitarian aid and other non-military products. A first shipment of 10,000 tonnes would be sent next Friday, he said, and work would begin immediately to tackle Gaza's water and power supply crisis.

“Our Palestinian brothers in Gaza have suffered a lot and we have made it possible for them to take a breath with this agreement,” Mr Yildirim told a news conference in Ankara.

Reuters

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