Turkish official: Normalization with Israel close

Turkey and Israel are close to a deal on normalizing ties more than five years after relations were downgraded, a senior Turkish official said on Tuesday.

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out in 2010 over the deadly storming by Israeli commandos of a Turkish ship, the Mavi Marmara, as it attempted to break the IDF blockade of Gaza.

But the atmosphere was transformed following the revelation in December that the two sides had met that month in secret talks to seek a rapprochement.

Turkish media reports said high-level Turkish and Israeli delegations held a second round of talks in Geneva earlier this month.  

"The talks are going on. We are close to concluding a deal (on a full normalization of ties) but it is not over yet so I won't comment further," the Turkish official told reporters in Istanbul.

"The sides should show some political will to conclude it," said the official, asking not to be named.

Turkey has repeatedly insisted on three conditions for normalization: the lifting of the Gaza blockade, compensation for the Al Qaeda-linked extremists killed aboard the Mavi Marmara, and an Israeli "apology" for the incident.

Israel has already apologized and negotiations appear to have made progress on compensation for the 10 Turkish activists killed in the raid.

The leaves Israel's blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip as the main hurdle. The blockade is in effect to prevent terrorists from obtaining advanced weaponry, and it is unclear what provisions, if any, Ankara is suggesting to replace it with.

"We put (forward) our views very clearly," said the Turkish official.

"We asked for an apology, we got it. On compensation, the negotiations are about to be over. The lifting of the Gaza blockade is our third condition."  

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had raised hackles in Israel with his often inflammatory and aggressive rhetoric towards the Jewish state.

But in a highly symbolic encounter, Erdogan last week met representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations in Ankara.

Participants at the meeting, held at Erdogan's presidential palace, said he expressed hope that relations will get closer.  

AFP contributed to this report.

Source: http://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/208122

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