Israel and Turkey have announced a reconciliation deal to end a bitter six-year rift between the Mideast powers.
In Rome, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu says the deal will help bring “stability” to the turbulent Middle East. His Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, made a simultaneous announcement in Ankara.
Relations between the once-close allies imploded six years ago after an Israeli naval raid killed nine Turkish provocateurs on board a flotilla trying to breach Israel’s blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
After the raid, the countries withdrew their ambassadors, largely cut security ties and have since maintained only low-level diplomatic relations.
Under Monday’s deal, Israel and Turkey will restore full diplomatic relations, with ambassadors expected to return within several weeks.
Israel will pay $21 million in compensation for the families of people harmed in the naval raid, and it will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza through the Ashdod port and to carry out a series of development projects in Gaza, particularly in water and electricity.
Netanyahu said it is a “clear” Israeli interest to help resolve Gaza’s water and electricity woes.
In return, Turkey agreed to prevent legal claims against Israel over the raid, and to prevent any military action or fundraising in Turkey, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to Hamas. Turkey remains close ties with Hamas, an Islamic terror group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction and is labeled a terrorist organization by Israel and the West.
Even in their announcements, the two countries appeared to be at odds.
Yildirim said the deal, which will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza and engage in infrastructure investments to construct residential buildings and a hospital and to address energy and water shortages in Gaza amounted to a partial lifting of the Gaza blockade.
“The total embargo imposed on Palestine and on the Gaza region in particular, is to being lifted to a great extent through Turkey’s leadership,” Yildirim said.
He said a first Turkish ship, carrying more than 10,000 tons of aid, would depart for the Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday.
“With this deal, the process of returning ties to normal has begun,” Yildirim said.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, said the blockade remains in place. He called the blockade a “top security interest.”
Netanyahu also said the deal would give a big boost to the Israeli economy by opening the key Turkish market to Israeli natural gas exports and by providing a gateway to the European market as well.
Yildirim said that the deal would be signed on Tuesday.
Earlier Monday, Netanyahu met with Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, after being welcomed with an honor guard and the national anthems of both countries.
Renzi told Netanyahu that he welcomes Israel’s agreement with Turkey and added that it was very important for stability in Europe and the region.
Netanyahu and his Italian counterpart agreed on the continued strengthening of bilateral cooperation in the security, economic and cyber spheres. They also agreed on continued and increased trilateral cooperation with several African countries. The two prime ministers agreed on a meeting in Israel before the end of the year.