Antalya mayor calls on Israelis to return
Amid sharp drop in Israeli tourism due to crisis over flotilla raid, mayor of Turkish city tells reporters he opposes Erdogan's policy, promises Israelis will be welcomed with open arms. 'Relationship between our countries crucial to entire region's stability,' Mustafa Akaydın says
TURKEY - Antalya Mayor Mustafa Akaydın condemned Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's policy and called on Israelis to once again fill the city's streets and hotels, this after Israel lifted a severe warning on travel to the country."The friendly relations between our two nations are important to me. I am concerned about the deterioration in ties," he told Israeli reporters on Monday.
The diplomatic crisis over the IDF's raid on a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in late May has kept Israeli tourists away from Turkey, once a favorite vacation spot.
Akaydın condemned Erdogan's policy, but added, "I do not want to criticize him."
"I have many Jewish friends from my days as a student, and it was a great honor for us to host you (Israeli tourists) here for years – and in crazy numbers. Unfortunately, the number of Israeli tourists visiting Turkey began to decrease in 2008, and the largest drop was recorded this summer," said the mayor.
"It is a mistake to assume that the Turks will not welcome the Israelis with kindness. Antalya's economy is dependent on tourism, particularly from Israel," he said.
Many Israeli-Arab families continue to travel to Turkey.
Mayor Akaydın, who is a member of the secular opposition party CHP, beat Erdogan's candidate in the local elections, and a huge portrait of Kamal Atattürk, the leader of the secular revolution in Turkey, adorns his office wall.
"I oppose Erdogan's policy and, as a member of the opposition, I condemn him, but I do not want to criticize him," Akaydın told reporters. "I believe that Israeli tourists who will also visit Istanbul and Ankara will be met by the same atmosphere.
"To us, the Israelis' money is not as important as the friendly relations between both nations. I am very concerned about the ties between our countries. We have the strongest economies in the Middle East, and the relationship between us is crucial to the entire region's stability," he said.
The mayor continued to say that Antalya "is a very safe city for the Israeli tourist – every person on the street will tell you this. It is safer than any other port or tourist city in Turkey.
"The government's policy is one thing and the residents' attitude is another. Turkey is the only democratic Islamic country in the region, and is considered one of the most moderate countries in the Arab world. Antalya's residents will continue to be friendly and kind to Israelis."
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