Ahead of the anticipated deal with Turkey over the Mavi Marmara affair, Israel is allowing building materials, communications equipment and medical supplies into the Gaza Strip, so that construction of a Turkish hospital south of Gaza City may resume.
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Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon on Tuesday approved the recommendations of the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai, in this regard. Turkey initiated the project without coordinating with Israel.
Construction began in April 2011, on the ruins of the Netzarim settlement in central Gaza, and relied on smuggling tunnels in Rafah. The 150-bed hospital will cost about $35 million to build.
During the reconciliation negotiations between Israel and Turkey, around a year ago, Israel approved the entry into Gaza of medical equipment for the hospital as well as Turkish medical teams. But in October 2013 Israel halted the transfer of all building materials into Gaza, in response to the discovery of a tunnel dug by Hamas from Gaza into Israel near Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha, in the western Negev.
In January, Israel relaxed the ban to allow building materials for projects of the United Nations into Gaza, but until this week no progress had been made on the issue of the hospital.
Ya’alon’s announcement came after Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told the Turkish daily Hurriyet on Tuesday that a reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey will be signed shortly after the March 30 local elections in his country. A second major consideration for Israel was the severe economic hardship in Gaza and the steep decline in the smuggling of goods from Egypt to Gaza through the Rafah tunnels.
Israeli defense officials informed Turkey on Tuesday that a large shipment of equipment for the hospital project would be allowed into Gaza. Around 570 trucks will carry the equipment through the Kerem Shalom terminal, in southern Gaza.
Arinc said Turkey received in February the final draft of the reconciliation agreement, including the amount of compensation that Israel will pay the families of the nine Turkish nationals who were killed and several more who were injured in the 2010 Israeli naval raid on the Mavi Marmara, a ship that was trying to break through Israel’s naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Bulent told the newspaper the Turkish government will review the document and is expected to approve it after the March 30 election, after which the Turkish parliament will vote on the agreement. That would pave the way for the resumption of diplomatic relations, including the exchange of ambassadors.
In February Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in a telephone conversation with U.S. President Barack Obama, blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for delaying the reconciliation agreement.
After the conversation, the White House issued a brief statement saying that Obama encouraged Erdogan to complete the reconciliation agreement and to normalize relations with Israel. However, Israeli sources who were briefed on the details of the conversation between Erdogan and Obama say that behind the relatively short press statement was an extensive discussion between the two leaders. They say Obama told Erdogan that nearly a year had elapsed since the phone call the U.S. president arranged during his visit to Israel, in which Netanyahu apologized for the deaths of the Turkish citizens in the Mavi Marmara raid.