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DIPLOMACY >Israel deal ‘about to be concluded’

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Turkey and Israel are close to a deal on normalizing ties more than five years after relations were downgraded, a senior Turkish official said on Feb. 16.

Turkish media reports said high-level Turkish and Israeli delegations held a second round of talks in Geneva earlier this month.

“The talks are going on. We are close to concluding a deal [on a full normalization of ties] but it is not over yet so I won’t comment further,” the Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul, according to AFP.

“The sides should show some political will to conclude it,” said the official, asking not to be named.

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out in 2010 over the deadly storming by Israeli commandos of a Turkish aid ship, the Mavi Marmara, bound for Gaza.

But the atmosphere was transformed following the revelation in December 2015 that the two sides had met that month in secret talks to seek a rapprochement.

Turkey has repeatedly insisted on three conditions for normalization: the lifting of the Gaza blockade, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and an apology for the incident.

Israel has already apologized and negotiations appear to have made progress on compensation for the victims of the Mavi Marmara raid, which left 10 Turkish aid activists dead.

This leaves Israel’s blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as the main hurdle.

“We put [forward] our views very clearly,” said the Turkish official.

“We asked for an apology, we got it. On compensation, the negotiations are about to be over. The lifting of the Gaza blockade is our third condition.” 

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had raised hackles in Israel with his sometimes inflammatory rhetoric towards the Jewish state.  

But in a highly symbolic encounter, Erdoğan last week met representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations in Ankara.

Participants at the meeting, held at Erdogan’s presidential palace, said he expressed hope that relations will get closer.

One day prior to the Turkish official’s statement, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) spokesperson Ömer Çelik said Turkey and Israel were close to signing an agreement on compensation for the killing of the 10 Turkish citizens. 

Çelik said in a live interview on private HaberTürk television station: “The point has been reached in the talks at which [an agreement] can be signed.” 

He did not say whether progress has been reached on lifting the blockade. 

An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman, when asked, said he had no comment on the matter.

February/16/2016

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