As Turkey helps Israel put out the Carmel fire, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched an effort to end the diplomatic crisis with Ankara.

Netanyahu sent the Israeli representative on the United Nations committee investigating the Gaza flotilla incident, Yosef Ciechanover, to Geneva to meet with Ambassador Feridun Sinirlioglu, an undersecretary at the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

A senior Israeli source said the two would try to draw up a draft agreement that would put and end to the crisis.

The Turks are demanding that Israel apologize for the killing of Turkish civilians and compensate the families of the victims in the attack on the flotilla earlier this year.

Sources at the Prime Minister's Bureau acknowledged that contacts were being made with Turkey on the issue but declined to offer further details.

For his part, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said yesterday that despite the fire aid and his conversation with Netanyahu, Turkey continues to expect an apology from Israel on the flotilla incident and compensation for the victims. "We do not confuse this issue with other issues," he said.

As foreign help arrives, IAF plans fire squadron

The Israel Air Force has begun unofficial staff work to create a firefighting squadron ahead of a likely government decision on the matter in the coming days. The IAF has gotten to work as aircraft continue to arrive from foreign countries, playing a key role in battling the fire on the Carmel.

Over the weekend, foreign firefighting aircraft were in operation including seaplanes from Greece and Turkey that landed in Haifa Bay, loaded their tanks and dumped the water on the Carmel. Large Russian planes and a French aircraft also took part.

More planes are due to arrive from France, Russia and the United States, including two Air National Guard planes equipped with special foam tanks. The largest firefighting aircraft in the world, a reconfigured 747 belonging to the private firm Evergreen, will also arrive. The aircraft is capable of carrying more than 90,000 liters of water.

Firefighting sources said the foreign aircraft have played a major role in efforts to put out the blaze.

The foreign aircraft have been joined by 12 from the company Chim-Nir; their operations have been coordinated by the air force, which established a special control center near the University of Haifa.

The aircraft operate out of air force bases at Ramat David and Tel Nof, as well as Haifa Airport. An overall picture of the situation on the ground is being provided by air force drones.

The air force once provided a firefighting capability using its heavy-lift helicopters, but they are old and less effective than the small planes in the Chim-Nir fleet.

The air force expects the government to fund a firefighting squadron. Air force officers are examining the equipment coming in from other countries with an eye to the future.