After Months of Negotiations |

Israel to Grant Turkey Access to Gaza for Construction of Hospital

Turkey reportedly sees permit as hint of Israel's willingness to patch up countries' bruised relations since Mavi Marmara incident; hospital set to be largest in Palestinian territories.

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

After months of lengthy negotiation that involved American intervention, Israel has agreed to allow Turkish trucks to bring building materials into Gaza for the construction of a hospital there.

Turkey sees Israel's agreement as another hint of its willingness to patch up the countries' bruised relations (following the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010, when nine Turkish activists were shot dead after the Israel Defense Forces boarded their Gaza-bound ship) and fulfill one of Turkey's conditions for reconciliation - lifting the blockade on the Gaza Strip.

The Turks had decided to build the hospital, set to be the largest and most sophisticated medical facility in the territories, back in September 2011, but Israel's blockade policy stopped its construction.

The Turkish daily Hurriyet reported Monday that construction of the 150-bed hospital should be completed within a year, and that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to visit Gaza for its opening.

The hospital is being built by Turkey's Akar construction company, the only foreign construction company currently operating in Gaza. Israel has asked the construction firm to submit a detailed list of the materials and equipment it plans to bring into the area.

According to Hurriyet, Turkey is refraining from seeing the permit as a diplomatic turning point, instead calling Israel's agreement a "humanitarian act." At the same time, Turkish sources say the results of the election and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's desire to put together a broad coalition may lead the Israeli government to move toward reconciling with Turkey.

These sources recall that, last month, then Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon told Hurriyet that "Israel is prepared to send a letter of apology to Turkey along the lines of the letter of apology the United States sent to Pakistan last July, after the incident that killed 24 Pakistani soldiers."

Around a year ago, a team of Israeli and Turkish representatives came up with an apology text that was acceptable to both Netanyahu and Erdogan, but then Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman nixed that formulation.

Since then, Western leaders, including U.S. President Barak Obama, have been trying to bring an end to the crisis between Ankara and Jerusalem, without success.

Last week the issue came up again in the Turkish Foreign Ministry, when U.S. Ambassador Francis J. Ricciardone spoke with Turkish Deputy Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioglu (a past ambassador to Israel) about advancing the reconciliation during the run-up to Obama's visit to Israel.

Illustration: A convoy.Credit: Reuters

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