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In rare outreach Turkish FM invites Israeli energy minister to conference

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Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has invited Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz to a conference scheduled for June, which would be the highest-level visit of an Israeli official to Turkey in three years, according to reports from Turkish and Israeli media outlets.

The Antalya Diplomacy Forum will bring a group of politicians, diplomats, academics and experts together to discuss regional and global matters June 18-20.

Turkey’s invitation to a senior Israeli minister might signal a rapprochement between the two countries, whose ties have been strained since 2018, when Turkey recalled its ambassador and expelled Israel’s envoy following violence along the Gaza border, where 61 Palestinians were killed.

Israel responded by expelling Turkey’s consul general in Jerusalem, and a war of words ensued between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Erdoğan said in December that Turkey would like to improve ties with Israel but that Israel’s Palestine policies continue to be a red line for Ankara.

Erdoğan’s remarks came after Al-Monitor reported early in December that Turkey’s National Intelligence Organization (MİT) had been having secret talks with Israeli officials as part of an effort launched by the Turkish government to normalize relations.

According to the report, three sources speaking on condition of anonymity confirmed that meetings specifically aimed at upgrading ties back to the ambassador level had taken place in November, with MİT chief Hakan Fidan representing Turkey in at least one of them.

Israel and Turkey exchanged ambassadors in 2016, after a five-year period following the Mavi Marmara flotilla incident during which the countries did not have full diplomatic ties.

The Mavi Marmara incident concerns the killing by Israeli commandoes in international waters of nine Turkish and one Turkish-American pro-Palestinian activists who were part of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla heading to Gaza to deliver aid.

There has been no ambassador in either country since May 2018. The bilateral ties came under further strain when Erdoğan denounced Israel’s West Bank annexation plan, vowing to prevent its implementation.

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