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Israel and Turkey Resume Talks to End Diplomatic Crisis

Senior Israeli officials say Netanyahu's envoy, Yosef Chiechanover, met with Turkish envoy Feridun Sinirlioglu to discuss reconciliation after the crisis that broke out following the 2010 Gaza flotilla.

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Barak Ravid
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ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

Israel and Turkey have resumed talks on ending the crisis in relations between the two countries, two senior Israeli officials said on Friday.

The diplomatic crisis first broke out in the wake of the Gaza flotilla incident in May 2010, when nine Turkish activists on board the Mavi Marmara ship were killed by IDF fire.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's envoy, Yosef Chiechanover, met this week in Geneva with Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu, and discussed the possibility of solving the diplomatic crisis, according to the officials.

The meeting between Chiechanover and Sinirlioglu was supposed to have taken place a number of weeks ago, but it was postponed. Despite the conflict in the Gaza Strip this week, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's recent criticism of Israel however, the two sides decided not to cancel the meeting.

A senior Israeli official said that this meeting was another attempt to find a solution to the Gaza flotilla crisis that will be acceptable to both Turkey and Israel.

Turkey is demanding an Israel apology for the killing of the nine Turkish activists who were on board the Mavi Marmara to Gaza. Turkey is also demanding compensation for the families of those wounded in the incident, and that Israel lift the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

Erdogan said recently that he does not intend to back down from these demands, and that they are basic conditions for normalizing relations between the two states.

The Turkish prime minister, who tried to show that he was involved in reaching a cease-fire agreement in Gaza this week, revealed on Wednesday that the Mossad and Turkish intelligence held talks on cease-fire negotiations between Hamas and Israel. It seems that Erdogan was referring to a meeting last week between Mossad chief Tamir Pardo and the head of Turkish intelligence, Hakan Fidan, in Cairo.

Throughout the eight days of Operation Pillar of Defense, Erdogan sharply criticized Israel, saying that it had committed war crimes in Gaza.

Chiechanover, who formerly served as director-general of Israel's Foreign Ministry, was appointed by Netanyahu as Israel's representative in the 2011 UN panel of inquiry into the Gaza Flotilla incident. Chiechanover's Turkish counterpart was Sinirliogl. Sinirlioglu has also served as Turkey's ambassador to Israel in the past, and was part of Turkish mediation efforts between Israel and Syria in 2007 and 2008.

The two envoys used their work in the UN panel of inquiry to formulate a draft document that would break the crisis between Israel and Turkey. More than a year ago, they completed the draft document, which included an Israeli apology over the operational failures that occurred during Israel's take-over of the Mavi Marmara ship, which led to the killing of the nine Turkish civilians.

Chiechanover presented the document to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior cabinet ministers more than a year ago. However, the Israeli premier decided not to adopt it, partly out of fears that it would harm him politically. This was because Israel's Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was opposed to any Israeli apology to Turkey over the incident.

Israel's refusal to apologize to Turkey, coupled with the UN's final report into the incident, which said that Israel's naval blockade on the Gaza Strip was legal and sided with most of Israel's positions, led to Turkey expelling the Israeli ambassador from Ankara, withdrawing Turkey's ambassador to Israel, and downgrading diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan. Credit: Reuters

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