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Turkey announces 'progress' in restoring ties with Israel

Israel and Turkey have inched closer to rebuilding relations after nearly six years of bitter enmity. Ankara cut ties after Israeli commandos killed Turkish activists in 2010 aboard an aid flotilla bound for Gaza.

Turkey's Foreign Ministry announced on Friday that "progress" had been made in talks with Israel following a bitter falling-out five years ago. Ankara had been a key regional ally of Jerusalem until Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip in 2010, killing 10 activists.

After years of negative rhetoric and bitter accusations from both sides, the two governments agreed in secret in December to begin negotiating a normalization of relations. The second round of rapprochement talks took place in Geneva in February.

"The teams made progress towards finalizing the agreement and closing the gaps, and agreed that the deal will be finalized in the next meeting, which will be convened very soon," a Foreign Ministry spokesman said early on Friday. Their Israeli counterparts declined to comment on the talks.

Turkey had previously said that the two former friends were "close to concluding a deal," but it was evident after the most recent discussions on Thursday that one major hurdle remained: Ankara has demanded Jerusalem lift its blockade on Hamas-ruled Gaza.

Rights groups around the world have condemned the blockade, calling it inhumane, while Israel has argued that it is necessary to stop weapons smuggling to Hamas militants. The Mavi Marmara was one of six aid ships headed to the Gaza Strip in May 2010 carrying humanitarian supplies when it was boarded by Israeli special forces.

Turkey eyes Israeli natural gas

Observers have noted that Turkey's desire to restore ties with Israel is likely due to souring relations with Moscow after a Russian warplane was shot down by the Turkish military near the Syrian border. Turkey relies on Russia for more than half of its imported natural gas, and now Ankara likely has its eye on Israeli gas.

In a symbolic gesture to show his sincerity, last week President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with representatives of Jewish organizations in the US to discuss anti-Semitism and racism.

"Unfortunately, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, xenophobic movements have been shifting from the periphery to the center of politics. We have to struggle against them together," he said.

es/jil (dpa, AFP)

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