First Israeli Cabinet Minister Since 2010 in Turkey

YERUSHALAYIM (Reuters/Hamodia) -

Environmental Affairs Minister Amir Peretz flew to Istanbul on Wednesday, becoming the first Israeli Cabinet minister to visit Turkey since ties ruptured in 2010 over the Gaza-bound flotilla.

An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters that Peretz was attending a four-day U.N.-sponsored conference in Istanbul about Mediterranean marine and coastal environment issues.

The minister did appear at the conference on Thursday, where he said, “I hope we could bridge the gaps between Israel and Turkey in the near future,” according to a Jerusalem Post report.

“Both the citizens of Israel and the citizens of Turkey hope that their governments can reach an agreement soon,” he told conference-goers.

An official at the Turkish Foreign Ministry also acknowledged Peretz was in the country but seemed to distance Ankara from the visit by saying, “The invitations were made by the U.N. Secretariat; we are just the host country.”

Nevertheless, Peretz met on Thursday afternoon with his Turkish counterpart, Environment and Urbanization Minister Erdogan Bayraktar, for about 40 minutes on the sidelines environmental conference. A spokesman for Peretz said the meeting was “very friendly.”