JERUSALEM, (AP) – The Israeli and Turkish foreign ministers met secretly on the sidelines of a NATO conference Thursday — the first high-level contact between the countries since friction erupted over Israel’s recent offensive in the Gaza Strip, the Israeli foreign ministry said.
Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni and Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan met in Brussels to discuss opportunities to advance regional peacemaking, a statement from the Israeli ministry said. The two emphasized “the strategic importance of the firm relations between the two states” in advancing Mideast stability, the statement said.
Turkey, a secular country ruled by an Islamic-oriented government, has long been Israel’s closest ally in the Muslim world, with wide-ranging military, economic and strategic ties. Last year, Ankara hosted months of indirect talks between Israel and Syria after an eight-year breakdown.
But many Turks were outraged that hundreds of Palestinian civilians were killed during Israel’s offensive against Gaza militants. In late January, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan stormed off a stage he shared with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, after telling Peres, “You kill people.”
Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor said there had been no contacts on the ministerial level since then, just low-level contacts between embassies.
“This is definitely the first time Israelis and Turks met on this level since Davos,” he said. “We kept it a secret until the meeting was over.”
Turkish-Israeli ties have frayed in the past over earlier Israeli attacks on Palestinians, but strong security interests helped to mend them.
Since Erdogan’s government came to power in 2003, Turkey has forged closer ties with Iran and Gaza’s Iranian-backed Hamas rulers. Turkey believes Hamas must play a key role in the Palestinian territories, but Israel shuns the group.