Turkey, Israel to restore relations

Israel and Turkey agreed to restore full diplomatic relations on Friday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologised in a phone call for a deadly naval raid against a Gaza-bound international flotilla in a dramatic turnaround partly brokered by President Barack Obama.

Joint interests between the two countries, including fears that the Syrian civil war could spill over their respective borders, and some cajoling by Obama made the time ripe to repair the frayed relations after nearly three years of acrimony over the deaths.

It was a surprising turnaround for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who had long rejected calls to apologise. He announced the breakthrough after a 20-minute phone conversation with his Turkish counterpart, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Obama helped broker the fence-mending while visiting Israel.

“They agreed to restore normalisation between Israel and Turkey, including the dispatch of ambassadors and the cancellation of legal steps against Israeli soldiers,” a statement from Netanyahu’s office said. Netanyahu “regretted the recent deterioration of relations between Israel and Turkey and expressed his commitment to overcoming their differences in order to advance peace and stability in the region,” it said.

The statement stressed that the bloodshed was not intentional and suggested that relatives of those killed would get compensation. In light of an Israeli investigation into the shootings that pointed to a number of operational missteps, Netanyahu apologised to the Turkish people for “any mistakes that might have led to the loss of life or injury and agreed to conclude an agreement on compensation (and) non-liability,” the statement said.

It said Netanyahu appreciated Erdogan’s interview with a Danish paper in which he said he was misunderstood in remarks at a UN conference in Vienna. Erdogan said Islamophobia should be considered a crime against humanity “just like Zionism, like anti-Semitism and like fascism.” His comments drew wide condemnation. Erdogan later said he was misunderstood and was criticising Israeli policy. Erdogan’s office said: “Our prime minister accepted the apology in the name of the Turkish people.”

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the restoration of relations between the two countries and expressed appreciation for Obama’s role.

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