Turkey Israeli flags

(Shutterstock)

After a six-year rift and following months of negotiations, Israel and Turkey on Tuesday officially signed a reconciliation deal in an effort to rebuild ties.

In Jerusalem, Dore Gold, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, signed for Israel. Deputy Turkish Foreign Minister Feridun Sinirlioğlu, formerly Turkey’s envoy to Israel, signed on Turkey’s behalf in Ankara.

In Rome on Monday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the deal would help bring “stability” to the turbulent Middle East. His Turkish counterpart, Binali Yildirim, made a simultaneous announcement in Ankara.

Israel and Turkey were former close allies, but relations imploded in 2010 following the Mavi Marmara incident.

The Mavi Marmara was part of a flotilla of Turkish vessels traveling to Gaza, ostensibly to deliver humanitarian aid and medical supplies, but in reality it was an attempt to defy Israel’s sovereignty and was meant to support the Palestinian Hamas terror organization, which rules Gaza.

The only humanitarian aid found on board were boxes of expired medications.

IDF forces boarded the ship and were viciously assaulted. They killed 10 Turkish nationals while defending themselves, and several IDF soldiers suffered wounds as well.

After the raid, the countries withdrew their ambassadors, largely cut security ties and have since maintained only low-level diplomatic relations.

Under Monday’s deal, Israel and Turkey will restore full diplomatic relations, with ambassadors expected to return within several weeks.

Israel will pay $20 million in compensation for the families of people harmed in the naval raid, and it will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza through an Israeli port and to carry out a series of development projects in Gaza, particularly in water and electricity. Israel has already enabled this, regardless of the new agreement.

Netanyahu said it is a “clear” Israeli interest to help resolve Gaza’s water and electricity woes.

In return, Turkey agreed to prevent legal claims against Israel over the raid, and to prevent any terrorism activity or fundraising in Turkey, Netanyahu said, in an apparent reference to the Hamas, which has a headquarters in Turkey. Turkey maintains close ties with Hamas, an Islamic terror group that is sworn to Israel’s destruction and is labeled a terrorist organization by Israel and the West.

Turkey Trying to Assert Hegemony in Middle East

Even in their announcements, the two countries appeared to be at odds.

Yildirim said the deal, which will allow Turkey to deliver aid to Gaza and engage in infrastructure investments to construct residential buildings and a hospital and to address energy and water shortages in Gaza amounted to a partial lifting of the Gaza blockade.

Turkey's Prime Minister Binali Yildirim

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. (AP/Burhan Ozbilici)

“The total embargo imposed on Palestine and on the Gaza region in particular, is to being lifted to a great extent through Turkey’s leadership,” Yildirim said.

He said a first Turkish ship, carrying more than 10,000 tons of aid, would depart for the Israeli port of Ashdod on Friday.

“With this deal, the process of returning ties to normal has begun,” Yildirim said.

Netanyahu, meanwhile, said the blockade remains in place. He called the blockade a “top security interest.”

The Israeli leader spoke in Rome, where he held talks with US Secretary of State John Kerry earlier in the day. The US top diplomat welcomed the agreement and congratulated Netanyahu. He said the US has been working on the rapprochement for several years, and called it a “positive step.”

Netanyahu also said the deal would give a big boost to the Israeli economy by opening the key Turkish market to Israeli natural gas exports and by providing a gateway to the European market as well.

Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007. Israel says the measures are needed to prevent Hamas from importing weapons. The sides have fought three wars since the Hamas takeover.

Egypt, which has cool relations with Hamas, has also kept its border with Gaza closed.

Gaza’s Hamas rulers thanked Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for his support following the signing of the reconciliation pact.

Hamas said in a statement early Tuesday that it “expresses its thanks and appreciation” to Erdogan. However, it insists that it’s sticking to its policy to oppose Israel’s existence.

By: AP and United with Israel Staff