PM Agrees to Let Turkey Inspect Temple Mount Construction Site

Erdogan: Israel's actions raise tensions in region; Olmert to press gov't for help over spy Eli Cohen's remains.

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert on Thursday agreed to let a Turkish team inspect the construction site at the Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem, work Muslims fear will harm the face of the nearby Al-Aqsa Mosque.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Olmert had shown him photographs of the construction work, but had failed to convince him that it would not harm the holy sites there. Olmert agreed to a Turkish suggestion for a technical team from Turkey to inspect the site, Erdogan said.

Olmert said he agreed to the inspection because "Israel has nothing to hide." He added that the matter of the construction on the site had been miconstrued and presented in a tendentious way in the international media.

"The construction of this bridge next to the Western Wall has been taken out of context, but we will cooperate with everyone and will be happy to host the delegation in order to show that the Israeli story is correct and exact," he said.

In an interview published earlier Thursday, Erdogan harshly criticized the construction work conducted by Israel at the Mugrabi Gate at the Temple Mount, Army Radio reported.

A Turkish newspaper quoted Erdogan as saying, "Turkey is disturbed and angered by Israel's actions, which raise tensions in the entire region."

Olmert told the Milliyet newspaper before his meeting with Erdogan that the Turkish prime minister was misinformed about the construction in Jerusalem, insisting the work was nowhere near the holy site.

"I will show Erdogan photographs of the construction," the paper quoted Olmert as saying. "We will not touch any place that is sensitive to Islam."

Meanwhile Thursday, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said the construction should be examined from the perspective of halakha (Jewish law).

"Other than security forces, no Jew has permission to ascend to the Temple Mount, and there can be no such access," said Amar. "Therefore the Chief Rabbinate must give its opinion before the construction work begins."

Amar was responding to Communications Minister Ariel Atias' request that he conduct a dialogue with Muslim leaders on the construction.

"There is no reason to create unnecessary provocations," said Amar. "I will try to reach understanding and cooperation."

Israel also began operating live Internet cameras Thursday at the Temple Mount construction site.

Turkish PM: Accept PA gov't first, then push Quartet termsErdogan urged Olmert to open negotiations with the Palestinian unity government - which he called "the appeasement government" ? without waiting for acceptance of the Quartet's three preconditions.

He said that after the government was formed, he planned to invite Palestinian leaders to Turkey to convince them to accept the international terms.

During the talks, Olmert said that Israel wants to make peace with Syria, but urged Damascus to stop supporting terrorism.

"We want to make peace with Syria, if there is a peace we will be satisfied and be happy," Olmert said in a joint news conference with Erdogan. "We especially want Syria to stop supporting terrorism and abide by the rules set up by the international community.

PM urges economic sanctions on IranOlmert said in remarks published Thursday that economic sanctions against Iran would force it to review its nuclear program and compel neighboring Turkey to change its relations with the country.

Olmert arrived in Turkey late Wednesday for a two-day visit, hoping to discuss ways to rein in Iran's suspected efforts to build nuclear weapons.

"If economic sanctions were imposed, Iran would be forced to review its position," Olmert said in an interview with Turkey's Milliyet newspaper. "I believe that Turkey and many other countries will need to change their ties with Iran."

Israel and the West consider Iran a strategic threat, suspecting that Iran is building nuclear weapons, despite its denials. Olmert hopes to enlist Turkey in accelerated efforts to keep Iran from developing its nuclear program.

"Turkey is a bridge to other countries," Olmert said, hinting that Israel appreciates Turkey as a channel for communication to countries that do not share diplomatic ties with Israel.

The United Nations Security Council agreed in December to impose sanctions targeting people and programs linked to Iran's nuclear program, which the United States, the European Union and others fear is being used to make weapons. Under the December 23 decision, Iran was given two months to return to negotiations.

Erdogan was also expected to press Olmert to ease restrictions on Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

Olmert met at his hotel Wednesday night with members of the Turkish Jewish community. In addition to his meeting with the prime minister Thursday, Olmert is also to meet with President Ahmet Necdet Sezer and Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul.

Olmert is also scheduled to lay a wreath on the grave of Kemal Ataturk before returning to Israel.

PM to press for help retrieving spy's remainsThe prime minister is also expected to seek Turkey's help in having the remains of Mossad agent Eli Cohen, executed in Damascus in 1965, repatriated.

Government officials in Jerusalem said before the visit that Turkey will propose to Israel to act as an intermediary between Israel, Syria and Lebanon. The officials also said they believed Turkey would raise the issue of opening the Erez industrial zone in the northern Gaza Strip, which Erdogan has been promoting, but which has been bogged down due to the security situation.

Sources in Israel say that Turkey and Iran have been drawing closer recently due to Turkish concerns over the breakup of Iraq. Erdogan harshly criticized Israel for its actions during last summer's war in Lebanon and said "Israel has taken steps that will lead to its isolation from the world."

Government officials in Jerusalem view with concern a growing antipathy to Israel in Turkish pubic opinion and its media, which came to the fore during the Lebanon war and the recent renovation work at the Mugrabi Gate area near the Temple Mount.

Last week an editorial entitled "the dog must die" was published in a Turkish newspaper identified with the Islamic Movement.

Olmert phoned Eli Cohen's widow Nadia Tuesday and pledged to work to bring the remains of her husband to Israel.

About three years ago, Turkey promised then-foreign minister Silvan Shalom to intercede for Israel with Damascus in the matter. An aide to the Erdogan with close ties to Syria went to Damascus at the time to present the issue on humanitarian grounds, but was refused.

The Syrians said the repatriation of Cohen's remains could occur only as part of a comprehensive peace agreement with Israel.