J'lem Bans Antalya Flights After Turks Bar Israeli Guards

Security officials have ordered Israeli airlines not to fly to the Turkish resort city of Antalya because local authorities are no longer allowing armed Israeli security personnel to arrive at the airport. The airlines have been instructed to halt all services to Antalya until the matter is resolved.

Israeli charter airlines had already reduced the number of flights to Antalya as demand evaporated together with personal wealth, and following the Turkish government's criticism of Israel's campaign in Gaza. The security limitation deals a further blow to Israeli charter companies Israir, Arkia and El Al subsidiary Sun Dor. At this point the airlines will have to reschedule or cancel a number of flights to Antalya that had been planned for February and March, until a new agreement can be reached with the Turkish authorities.

Unnamed sources in the airline business said yesterday that they believe the problem between the two states will be resolved by Pesach.

Meanwhile, Antalya hotels have been offering enticing deals to Israeli tourists in an effort to entice them back to Turkey, and package deal prices have dropped. Travel agencies Magic Carpet and Holiday Lines are offering last-minute deals on vacations in Antalya for $199 per person in a double room, for three nights. Last winter prices ranged between $249 and $299 per person.

Spokespersons for the companies said that the price has fallen because hotels have advertised a free weekend for Israelis "in order to demonstrate Turkish hospitality".

The five hotels - Titanic, Topkapi, Limak Limra, Royal Wings and Kremlin - are offering Israeli tourists all-inclusive weekend accommodations on February 5-8 for just the price of a flight - $199 a person, including airport taxes and security.

The chief executive of Flying Carpet, Eyal Kashdan, said that Turkish hotels want Israelis, so they have offered free accommodations, aware that Israelis are spontaneous tourists and the distance is short. Kashdan added that some reservations have already been booked.

Holiday Lines, which suspended charter flights to Antalya due to reactions to Operation Cast Lead, is renewing them again as a result of cooperation with Turkish hoteliers. The agency is offering weekend vacations on February 12, including flights and hotel rooms for three nights at five-star hotels marketed by the company, for $199 per person in a double room.

A spokesman for the company says that the initiative came from the Turkish hoteliers, who want to prove to Israeli tourists that Antalya is safe and attractive for Israelis, and that they do not identify with the comments made by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Israeli tourism to Turkey took a nosedive after Erdogan stormed off the stage at the World Economic Forum in Davos last Thursday, following a verbal spat with President Shimon Peres over last month's fighting in Gaza.

Sources in the industry say that the $199 per night price is a gimmick. Travel agencies are soaking up the price of hotels, which range between $20 and $50 per night, in order to fill empty plane seats.

Israeli tourism officials also report massive cancelations of Turkish vacations booked for Pesach and the summer.

Earlier yesterday, the Turkish prime minister said his government remains committed to mediating a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians, despite his angry public exchange with Peres. Erdogan also said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had phoned him on Monday to ask him to continue Turkey's role as a Middle East mediator.

Meanwhile, other Turkish officials are more pragmatic about relations with Israel. Israel's commercial attache in Turkey, Doron Avrahami, said that the Turkish Agriculture and Rural Affairs Minister Mehdi Eker has told the Hurriyet newspaper that business and politics should not be mixed. "It would not be correct not to buy seeds from Israel," Eker said. "Turkey buys from the US, France, Holland and Germany, and buying from Israel is commercial activity. We will buy wherever the goods are cheaper and better," he added.

Eker's comments were made to the backdrop of a call by the Turkish union of cooperatives to boycott business with Israel following the Cast Lead campaign.

Avrahami added that the Israeli embassy in Turkey is making preparations to participate in an international forum on the issue of water, to be held in Istanbul in March.