ISTANBUL - Israel's consul-general in Istanbul said on Friday he expected Turkey to begin shipping drinking water to Israel later this year in a deal seen as enhancing relations between the Middle Eastern allies.
Turkey and Israel agreed in March to the purchase by Israel of 50 million cubic meters of water each year for 20 years. That would account for about three percent of Israel's annual fresh water consumption of 1.5 billion cubic meters.
The deal makes Israel the first country to buy water from Turkey, consul-general Amira Arnon told Reuters.
Turkey uses giant balloons to ship water from its southern Manavgat river to nearby Turkish-held northern Cyprus, but Arnon said this method would be untenable for the 300-km distance between Turkey and Israel.
Arnon said discussions were continuing, but specially built tankers would likely be used.
Price and cost issues would be handled after Turkey privatizes its Manavgat water business, she said.
Turkey plans to privatize the management of Manavgat water within a year through the transfer of operational rights or through rent support.
Critics have said shipping water from Turkey is too expensive and that some of Israel's water needs will be met with the opening of desalination plants within the next two years.
But Israeli officials have said spending more on water from Turkey is worth it to strengthen ties with the Muslim country, which enjoys close military and commercial ties with Israel.