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Turkey, Israeli Hold Secret Talks to Repair Ties - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) shakes hands with Israel's Industry and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer during their meeting at Esenboga airport in Ankara, November 23, 2009. (REUTERS)

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu (R) shakes hands with Israel’s Industry and Trade Minister Binyamin Ben Eliezer during their meeting at Esenboga airport in Ankara, November 23, 2009. (REUTERS)

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkish and Israeli ministers met secretly in Brussels to seek ways of mending fences amid a deep crisis over a deadly raid on Gaza-bound aid ships last month, officials said Thursday.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and Israeli Trade Minister Benjamin Ben Eliezer met Wednesday in Brussels, where Davutoglu was on a visit to discuss his country’s EU membership bid, a Turkish official said.

The talks “took place yesterday in Brussels upon a request by Israel,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“We had already conveyed a note to Israel explaining our expectations from them… Those expectations were repeated at the meeting,” he said.

An official at the office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirmed that Ben Eliezer held talks Wednesday with “a Turkish official” but would not give other details.

It was the first meeting on a ministerial level since relations between the once-close allies plunged into deep crisis on May 31 when Israeli commandos raided a Turkish ship leading an aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip.

Eight Turks and a dual US-Turkish citizen were killed in the operation, which shattered bilateral ties, already strained since Israel’s devastating war on Gaza last year

The United States has expressed concern over the deteriorating ties between the two countries.

The secret talks had been “meticulously prepared” in conjunction with Washington and with the involvement of Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, Israel’s military radio said.

Immediately after the raid, Ankara recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and cancelled three planned joint military exercises. It also denied permission twice to Israeli military aircraft to use its air space.

Turkish officials have said Turkey expects Israel to apologise for the bloodshed, compensate the victims’ families, agree to an international inquiry and release three Turkish vessels seized in the operation.

Ankara also wants the crippling blockade of Gaza to be lifted.

Ben Eliezer is known as an advocate of good ties with Turkey. He was the first Israeli minister to visit Ankara last year after the Jewish state’s war on Gaza triggered vehement Turkish criticism.

But Wednesday’s talks, which had been sanctioned by Netanyahu, infuriated Israel’s hawkish Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who was not informed of the meeting.

“Ben Eliezer has always been a one-man Turkish lobby — he is someone they trust, with whom they have had long-standing ties, so it makes sense,” an Israeli official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Having another minister step in is one thing, but doing this without informing the foreign minister — that is really offensive,” he said.

In a statement late Wednesday, Lieberman’s office slammed the incident as “an insult to the norms of accepted behaviour and a heavy blow to the confidence between the foreign minister and the prime minister.”

A statement from Netanyahu’s office, however, said he had approved a request from Ben Eliezer to meet unofficially with a “Turkish personality” and the failure to coordinate with the foreign ministry had been due to “technical reasons.”

Turkey’s NTV news channel said the meeting took place in a hotel suite and lasted more than two hours.

It was kept secret also from Turkey’s chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagis and Agriculture Minister Mehdi Eker, who were in Brussels with the foreign minister, it said.

Davutoglu and Ben Eliezer discussed ways of repairing bilateral ties, with the Turkish minister insisting Israel must apologise over the deadly raid on the Turkish ferry Mavi Marmara, it said.

The two agreed to keep the meeting secret, share their discussions with their prime ministers and meet again secretly on a future date, it added.

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat

Asharq Al-Awsat is the world’s premier pan-Arab daily newspaper, printed simultaneously each day on four continents in 14 cities. Launched in London in 1978, Asharq Al-Awsat has established itself as the decisive publication on pan-Arab and international affairs, offering its readers in-depth analysis and exclusive editorials, as well as the most comprehensive coverage of the entire Arab world.

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