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Turkey Says Normalisation Deal Depends on Israel

ANKARA (AFP) – Turkey said Wednesday that reaching a deal to normalise relations with Israel downgraded after a 2010 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish vessel depended on steps taken by the Jewish state.

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said Turkey had made its demands crystal clear ahead of upcoming talks — while insisting that Ankara’s relationship with Palestinian militant group Hamas, which rules Gaza, was not a condition in the talks.

Two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalisation — an apology for the deadly 2010 raid and compensation — were largely met, leaving its third demand, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, as the main obstacle.

“Whether a deal can be reached at the first upcoming meeting depends on the steps to be taken by Israel,” Cavusoglu told a news conference in Ankara.

“Our conditions are not very complicated, they are plain conditions,” Cavusoglu said. “They need to be fulfilled the same as our apology demand.”

He did not give the date of the meeting although press reports have said it would take place on Sunday and be followed by an announcement on the normalisation of ties.

Relations between once close allies Turkey and Israel hit an all-time low after Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a six-ship flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to run the blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

Nine activists on board the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara ferry were killed, with a tenth person later dying of his wounds, sparking a bitter diplomatic crisis. All 10 were Turkish nationals.

– ‘No Hamas condition’ –

The Hurriyet newspaper reported on Tuesday that the announcement for a deal would be made after talks between top Turkish foreign ministry official Feridun Sinirlioglu and Israel’s pointman on Turkish relations, Joseph Ciechanover.

It did not say where the talks would be held.

Israeli daily Yedioth Aharonot reported on Wednesday that the next round of talks would be held in Turkey and an announcement made there.

Previous reports have said that for any normalisation, Israel also wants Turkey to prevent senior Hamas operative Salah Aruri from entering its territory and acting from there. Ankara has never confirmed his presence in Turkey.

A report in the Turkish daily newspaper Karar Wednesday suggested that all Hamas operatives previously based in Turkey had left the country for Qatar several months ago at the request of Turkish authorities.

Turkey is a key backer of Hamas, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan holding regular meetings with the Doha-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal.

Cavusoglu on Wednesday said Turkey’s contacts with Hamas were “not clandestine” and that they would continue for the sake of intra-Palestinian unity and Middle East peace.

But he ruled out any condition about Hamas for a deal with Israel.

“There is no such a condition like Hamas for normalisation of our bilateral relations with Israel and there cannot be.”

Analysts have said Turkey may pursue a more conciliatory foreign policy following the departure of former prime minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who spearheaded an aggressive and interventionist strategy.

His successor Binali Yildirim last week said he wanted no permanent tensions with neighbours after serious ruptures not just with Israel but also with Egypt and Russia.

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