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article imageTurkey, Israel set to start process of exchanging ambassadors

By Fulya Ozerkan (AFP)     Jun 28, 2016 in World

Turkey and Israel will this week start the process of exchanging ambassadors after they signed a deal to restore ties following a bitter row in 2010, Ankara said Tuesday.

Presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin also said Turkey and Russia's foreign ministers would meet after months of acrimony, as Ankara launches major efforts to repair damaged friendships in the region.

"New steps will definitely be taken to restore ties with Israel in the areas of the economy, trade and energy," Kalin told reporters in the capital.

He added that Ankara wants to "open a new chapter in Turkish-Russian relations" which were severed when Turkey shot down one of Moscow's warplanes on its border with Syria last November.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin are due to speak by phone Wednesday for the first time since the incident prompted an unprecedented crisis in Moscow-Ankara ties.

"We expect relations to be normalised in areas of politics, trade and energy," Kalin said, indicating that the pair would likely discuss the lifting of punishing sanctions Russia has slapped on Turkey.

Erdogan had on Monday reached out a conciliatory hand to fellow strongman Putin.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim delivers a speech during a press conference after a Turkish-I...
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim delivers a speech during a press conference after a Turkish-Israeli meeting, at the Cankaya Palace in Ankara, on June 27, 2016
Adem Altan, AFP

The Kremlin said Erdogan apologised over the plane incident, but Kalin denied this, saying the Turkish leader's letter had "expressed deep regrets" rather than offering an outright apology.

Kalin added that there were no plans to offer compensation, but suggested Ankara may make a "gesture" to the family of the plane's slain pilot to "ease their sorrow".

Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu and his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov will meet Friday in the Russian resort of Sochi, on the sidelines of a Black Sea Economic Cooperation meeting.

- 'Zero problems with neighbours' -

The breakthroughs with Russia and Israel come as Turkey moves back towards an approach dubbed "zero problems with neighbours" following several diplomatic rows and with its foe President Bashar al-Assad still in power in Syria.

Israel was formerly a close regional ally, but ties plunged into deep freeze in 2010 following an Israeli commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid convoy that left 10 Turkish activists dead.

Israel had already offered compensation and an apology over the raid, leaving Turkey's third condition for restored ties -- the Jewish state's naval blockade on Gaza -- as the main obstacle.

In a compromise, the deal signed Tuesday will see Turkey invest in Palestinian infrastructure and deliver aid to Gaza residents via Israel's Ashdod port rather than directly to Gaza.

The blockade itself will remain in place.

Nevertheless, Kalin said Friday's departure of a Turkish ship, carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, would be "the first test to see if Israel will play a facilitator role" in easing the blockade.

A new hospital for Gaza, to be opened as part of the deal, will be operational in two or three months, Kalin said.

Erdogan's Islamic-rooted AKP party has maintained friendly ties with the Islamist Hamas movement which runs Gaza, and Erdogan has been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause.

Under the deal, Ankara has committed to keeping Hamas from carrying out military activities against Israel from Turkish territory, "including fundraising for such purposes," according to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

But Kalin denied Israeli media reports that Hamas would be able to carry out diplomatic operations from Turkey, saying: "Hamas does not have a bureau in Turkey."

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