Israel, Turkey deepen energy ties as relations resume after 6-yr rupture

Thu Oct 13, 2016 10:06am EDT
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By Can Sezer

ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Israel and Turkey agreed to deepen cooperation in the energy sector on Thursday, taking a further step towards normalizing ties with the first Israeli ministerial visit to Turkey since a breakdown six years ago.

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said he would welcome more involvement by Turkish firms in the Israeli energy sector, particularly in gas exploration, and said "detailed dialogue" between the two governments would begin in the coming months.

After meeting in Istanbul with his Turkish counterpart Berat Albayrak, who is President Tayyip Erdogan's son-in-law, Steinitz said the two had discussed the possibility of building a natural gas pipeline from Israel to Turkey.

"I was a great proponent of the normalization of ties between Israel and Turkey, and the meeting today is the beginning," Steinitz said. "The result, the economic results, should be to the benefit of people of Turkey and Israel."

Relations between the two regional powers crumbled after Israeli marines stormed an aid ship in May 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, killing 10 Turkish activists on board.

But they announced in June that they would normalize ties, a rare rapprochement in the divided Middle East, driven as much by the prospect of lucrative Mediterranean gas deals as by mutual fears over growing security risks.

Speaking in the capital Ankara, Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said the two countries would exchange ambassadors, as agreed in June, in the next week to 10 days.

Israeli officials said the committee meeting to decide on the appointment of the Israeli envoy would not take place until Oct. 27, and that a new ambassador was only likely to be in Ankara towards the end of the year.   Continued...

Israeli Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz attends a news conference after their meeting with Turkish Energy Minister Berat Albayrak in Istanbul, Turkey, October 13, 2016. REUTERS/Osman Orsal