Israeli minister offers olive branch in first visit to Turkey in three years

Photo: Israeli minister offers olive branch in first visit to Turkey in three years  / Arabic region

Israeli Environment Minister Amir Peretz yesterday offered an olive branch to Turkey during his visit to Istanbul, saying the people of both nations were expecting "reconciliation" from their governments very soon Hurriyet Daily News reported.

Peretz arrived in Istanbul late on Dec. 4, launching the first visit from an Israeli government official since the Mavi Marmara raid back in May 2010, which badly damaged relations between the former allies.

"I believe that problems between Turkey and Israel will be resolved very soon," he said while attending a United Nations conference on pollution in Mediterranean. "The people of Israel and the people of Turkey expect their governments to reconcile as soon as possible."

Peretz added that as countries of the Mediterranean, Turkey and Israel were very "connected." "We need to increase our cooperation. There are no borders to the environment. We need to find new ways of communicating to overcome the walls between us," he said.

The Israeli minister also touched on the Israel-Palestine issue and the recent international negotiations with Iran, describing himself as one of the "peace front" supporters.

"I certainly believe the Palestinians have the right to build their own state, I take on the two-state solution. I believe that the Iran talks in Geneva did not have a negative effect on the negotiations we have with the Palestinians. We still have five more months to complete talks, in that time we need to reach an agreement with both Iran and Palestine. Obviously, though, we do not want an Iran armed with nuclear weapons," he said.

Peretz was not expected to meet his Turkish counterpart during the visit, a foreign ministry official told AFP, stating that it was not an official visit. His trip follows a visit by an Israeli foreign ministry envoy to Istanbul last month for an energy conference.

Peretz and representatives of 21 other Mediterranean countries were attending the conference that served as the 18th ordinary meeting of contradicting parties to the Barcelona convention. The ordinary meetings are held once every two years to keep under review the implementation of the Barcelona Convention on the protection of the marine environment.

Turkish Environment and Urban Planning Minister Erdogan Bayraktar also attended the event.

Ties between Israel and Turkey hit an all-time low in May 2010 when Israeli commandos staged a pre-dawn raid on a flotilla of ships trying to break the blockade on the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks.

In March this year, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to NATO-member Turkey for the raid, a breakthrough brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama.

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Tags: Amir Peretz