JERUSALEM, (AFP) – Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu sees “great importance” in improving ties with Turkey as the two states seek to patch up shaky relations, an Israeli diplomatic source said on Tuesday.
The comments came after Turkish and Israeli diplomats met for two days in Geneva in a bid to salvage ties, in deep crisis since a May 31 Israeli raid on an aid ship in which nine Turks were killed.
“Netanyahu sees great importance in improving these ties, but above all he’s determined to see that IDF (Israeli Defence Force) soldiers and officers will not be open to lawsuits and arrests around the world,” said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“At this stage the two sides are looking for a compromise formula that will make it clear that the state of Israel did not act wantonly,” the source said, adding that talks will continue in the next few days.
The Israeli comments come after Turkey’s prime minister on Tuesday insisted on apology and compensation before relations can resume.
“If anyone wants to turn a new page, they must first admit their crime… apologise and pay compensation,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a weekly address to parliament.
He also called for Israel to lift its blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.
“If we see these steps being taken, then we will evaluate the situation… We are not acting with feelings of grudge and hatred,” he said.
Hopes for a thaw between the one-time allies emerged last week when Ankara sent two fire-fighting planes to battle a deadly forest fire in Israel and Netanyahu telephoned Erdogan to express gratitude for the help.
The two sides are reportedly seeking a deal, under which Israel would apologise over the raid and compensate the families of victims, while Turkey would agree to send back its ambassador to Tel Aviv.
In response to the raid, Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled joint military drills. It also twice denied permission to Israeli military aircraft to use its air space.
Turkey and Israel had enjoyed a decade of close ties since 1996 when they signed a military cooperation agreement.