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Israel-Turkey talks to restore ties 'advanced'

People in the Turkish capital, Ankara, walk past billboards that allude to Israel’s apology to Turkey for its deadly raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla, March 25, 2013. (Photo by AP)

A top Israeli diplomat says negotiations with Turkey to fully restore ties have reached an "advanced" level and the two sides are close to reviving their traditionally close relations.  

“The reconciliation process between Israel and Turkey has reached an advanced momentum,” Shai Cohen, Israel’s consul general in Istanbul, said on Tuesday.

“I believe it will take another round or two in order to conclude the deal ... Most of the issues between Israel and Turkey are already, to a certain extent, clear,” Cohen added.

He said, however, that further discussions will have to wait until the formation of a new Turkish government on May 22.

Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said last week that he would relinquish his position as prime minister later this month amid political differences with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Pro-Palestinian Turks gather on the fourth anniversary of a deadly Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla, in Istanbul, Turkey, May 30, 2014. (Photo by AP) 

Cohen said the next meeting between Israeli and Turkish negotiators will have to await the composition of Turkey's next government on May 22.

An impetus for Israel and Turkey to mend relations is natural gas. Turkey reportedly wants to pipe gas out of the offshore Leviathan field, estimated to hold 500 billion cubic meters, for domestic use and export.

"Everyone is looking forward to see how Israel can export to Turkey, and through Turkey to the West, natural gas," Cohen said.

He ruled out Israel lifting its blockade on Gaza in place since 2007, calling it a "non-issue," even though Erdogan has repeatedly made it a condition for restoring relations.

Cohen said Turkey and Israel must also begin to share intelligence in the region. "Ultimately, we cannot escape enhancing intelligence sharing, sharing information and even cooperating on an operational basis," he said.  

Responding to a question as to whether launching a joint military operation was on the table, Cohen said it was not being discussed at present.

“But it’s very well understood by all authorities that this is a main issue we should discuss with Turkey and see how we can cooperate in the future,” he said, adding that it might not happen immediately.

“It’s a very delicate issue. But it’s something very important for both sides,” he said. 

Cohen ruled out cooperation on Turkey’s fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), said it “is a Turkish confrontation, a Turkish issue.”

“We don’t intervene in Turkish decisions or policy vis-à-vis the Kurdish problem. It’s a Turkish thing to be concluded by Turkey,” Cohen said. 

Israel and Turkey were traditionally close allies but relations soured following a deadly Israeli attack on a Turkish aid ship that was attempting to break the naval blockade on the Gaza Strip.


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