Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to visit Gaza in mid-April, Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh said on the same day Israel apologized to Turkey for killing nine Turkish citizens in a 2010 naval raid on a Gaza-bound ship.
Haniyeh made the announcement Friday night at a commemoration ceremony for Hamas founder and spiritual leader Sheikh Ahmed Yassin, who was killed by Israel in 2004. Haniyeh further stated that Erdogan spoke to Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal on the phone and said Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to "lift the siege on the Palestinian people."
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On Friday Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Turkish counterpart Erdogan spoke by telephone and agreed to normalize relations in a surprise breakthrough announced by US President Barack Obama.
The 30-minute call was made in a runway trailer at Ben-Gurion Airport, where Obama and Netanyahu huddled before the president boarded Air Force One for a flight to Jordan, US officials said.
In an official statement, Netanyahu's office said: "In light of Israel's investigation into the incident, which pointed to a number of operational mistakes, the prime minister expressed Israel's apology to the Turkish people for any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury."
In Jordan, Obama discusses Israeli apology to Turkey (Video: Reuters)
Obama released an official statement on Friday afternoon saying that he welcomed the call. "The United States deeply values our close partnerships with both Turkey and Israel, and we attach great importance to the restoration of positive relations between them in order to advance regional peace and security," the statement said.
"I am hopeful that today's exchange between the two leaders will enable them to engage in deeper cooperation on this and a range of other challenges and opportunities."
Raid on Mavi Marmara (Archive photo: IDF Spokesman's Office)
Erdogan was scheduled to visit Gaza a number of times in the past, but his trips to the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave were called off for various reasons.
The head of the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), the Turkish organization which organized the flotilla to Gaza, said Israel's formal apology over the Mavi Marmara raid is a political and diplomatic success.
"We are proud of Turkey's honorable stance. The apology and the compensation are very important. We also want the naval blockade to end. The struggle will continue until the blockade is lifted," Bülent Yıldırım told the Hurriyet daily on Friday.
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said on Friday that all of Turkey's fundamental demands had been met with the apology from Israel.
"Turkey's basic demands have been met; we got what we wanted," he told public broadcaster TRT. Davutoglu said Israel's apology to Turkey over the Mavi Marmara raid was the result of arduous negotiations that lasted three years.
"What appears to you as a surprise is an effort that has been pursued and forged gradually for three years," he said, noting US Secretary of State John Kerry's key role in the surprising breakthrough.
"When Kerry visited Turkey we talked about these matters very openly. We voiced our three demands (apology, compensation and lifting of the Gaza blockade) if Turkey's contribution to the peace process in the Middle East and the normalization of ties with Israel was wanted. I spoke with Kerry six times over the last week. We talked about the negotiations on the texts (of the apology)," Davutoglu said.
Turkey's Ambassador to Washington Namik Tan said, "Turkey and Israel prepare to start a new chapter following PM Netanyahu's call to PM Erdogan."
"(A) deep rooted, strong and historic friendship between the two peoples brought the apology (from Netanyahu) and opened of the door for Turkey and Israel to move forward. As we always said: Only true friends apologize to each other," the envoy wrote on his Twitter page Friday.
Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a UN report into the Mavi Marmara incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state.
Before the diplomatic breakdown, Israel and Turkey shared intelligence information and carried out joint military exercises. Israeli pilots trained in Turkish skies, improving their capability to carry out long-range missions such as possible strikes against Iran's nuclear facilities.
Israel had balked at apologizing to the Turks, saying this would be tantamount to admitting moral culpability and would invite lawsuits against its troops.
Voicing until now only "regret" over the incident, Israel has offered to pay into what it called a "humanitarian fund" through which casualties and their relatives could be compensated.
Yitzhak Benhorin, Reuters contributed to the report
You can contact Elior Levy, Ynet's Palestinian Affairs Correspondent, at: firstname.lastname@example.org
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