PM to Press Ankara for Help Repatriating Spy Eli Cohen's Remains

Prime Minister Ehud Olmert arrived in Turkey yesterday for a two-day visit, during which he will meet with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Last night Olmert met at his hotel with members of the Turkish Jewish community.

In addition to his meeting with the prime minister today, 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.

He 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.