Israeli Delegation Secretly Visits Turkey to Heal Rift
    2012-08-19 18:31:12     Xinhua       Web Editor: haipeng

A delegation of Israeli Knesset (parliament) members and ultra-Orthodox rabbis made a secret visit to Turkey last week in an attempt to reconcile the feuding countries, local media reported Sunday.

The visit got the thumbs-up from the Prime Minister's Office, although the Foreign Ministry frowned upon the initiative, the Yedhioth Ahronot daily reported Sunday.

Israeli-Turkish ties were severely damaged following the 2010 Mavi Marmara incident, in which Israeli soldiers killed Turkish protesters.

In May 31, 2010, a flotilla led by the Mavi Marmara ferry, tried to break Israeli maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip. Events got out of hand as Israeli commandos battled armed protesters, killing nine.

Since then, Israeli officials have refused Turkish demands to publicly apologize for the incident, saying the troops opened fire in self-defense, and that an apology would lead to scores of punitive lawsuits by families of the casualties.

A Turkish interfaith organization invited the delegation, which included members of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, Deputy Finance Minister Yithzak Cohen and Knesset member Nissim Ze'ev, as well as professors and rabbis from across Europe.

The delegation, in coordination with the Israeli consulate in Ankara, met up with Turkish officials and parliament members, at hotels in Ankara and Istanbul.

The meetings mainly focused on how to revamp diplomatic ties between the countries.

According to the report, Israel reiterated its long-standing stance that it would not apologize for the Marmara incident, but would be willing to pay its condolences to families of those killed and compensate them.

In July, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met with Turkish journalists, in a bid to improve Israel's image in the Turkish public's opinion.

Lieberman said he was willing to work towards a solution with Ankara, however, he reiterated Israel's refusal to apologize.

Earlier in July, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged Netanyahu to amend ties with Turkey, citing Ankara's possible role in any potential coalition against Iran and Syria.

Last June, an Istanbul court announced it would hold trials in- absentia for four Israeli commanders who took part in the Mavi Marmara incident.

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