Israeli, Turkish Diplomats Meet in Geneva to Repair Ties

Senior Israeli and Turkish representatives met in Geneva yesterday in an effort to draft an agreement that would put an end to the crisis in relations between the two countries, which has persisted since the flotilla incident in late May.

Diplomats from both sides said they expected the understandings to include an Israeli apology over the incident, in which nine Turks were killed when Israeli naval commandos boarded the Mavi Marmara ship, which was attempting to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza.

Israel is expected to show readiness to pay compensation to the families of those killed on the ship in exchange for the Turkish ambassador being returned to Tel Aviv and Turkey consenting to the appointment of a new Israeli ambassador to Ankara. The current ambassador to Turkey, Gabi Levy, is expected to depart from his post next summer.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday underlined his country's position, saying the two nations would turn a new leaf in their relations, but only after Israel apologized and paid compensation.

For its part, Israel is interested in normalizing relations with the Turks nearly six months after Turkey withdrew its ambassador to the country.

The crisis in relations has also caused Turkey considerable diplomatic damage in Washington.

The Turkish and Israeli officials involved in the current talks have said the contacts were initiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and follow the momentum created by Turkish aid in fighting the massive Carmel fire over the past several days.

The sources added, however, that talks are in their preliminary stage and will require additional meetings in order to reach an agreement that would gain the approval of both Erdogan and Netanyahu.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman has been briefed on the talks, which have been handled primarily by National Security Adviser Uzi Arad. Lieberman's office declined to comment on the matter, but ministry sources have said they believe the foreign minister has reservations over the effort, as he has said in the past that Israel will not apologize to or financially compensate the Turks.