Turkey reiterates support for Palestinians ahead of Israel talks

Visit raises speculation that Israel and Turkey may be ready to return ambassadors after years of strained ties

Turkish foreign minister Mevlüt Çavusoglu has assured the Palestinians that Ankara's support for the Palestinian cause will continue despite Turkey's warming ties with Israel.

Speaking in Ramallah during a visit on Tuesday he voiced support for Palestinian independence in a statement alongside his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki.

“Our support for the Palestinian cause is completely independent from the course of our relations with Israel,” he said, at the start of a two-day visit to Israel and the occupied West Bank.

The visit is the first by a high-level Turkish official in 15 years and has raised speculation that Israel and Turkey may soon be ready to return ambassadors after years of strained ties.

On Wednesday, Mr Çavusoglu is expected to discuss restoring full diplomatic relations when he meets his Israeli counterpart Yair Lapid in Jerusalem.

According to Turkish media, Israel has provided Turkey with a list of Hamas members it wants to be expelled from Turkey as a condition for returning ambassadors.

He also plans to visit the flashpoint Temple Mount compound in Jerusalem’s Old City, revered by Muslims as the Haram al-Sharif, unaccompanied by Israeli officials.

Sanctity

Turkey has publicly criticised the recent clashes between Israeli police and Muslim worshippers at the al-Aqsa mosque on the compound.

“It is important for all Muslims that the sanctity and status of the al-Aqsa mosque is protected,” Mr Çavusoglu said.

Ankara is also interested in a deal to export Israel's natural gas from the Mediterranean Sea to Europe, via Turkey. Mr Çavusoglu's visit comes as Turkey is seeking to improve its relations with Israel as part of a larger push to mend its ties with the West.

Israel and Turkey enjoyed extremely close ties – including military and intelligence co-operation – following the Israeli-Palestinian peace agreements in the mid-1990s, but relations began to deteriorate in 2008 when then prime minister Ehud Olmert met president Recep Tayyip Erdogan and launched a war in Gaza days later.

The gradual rapprochement began after the new Israeli government was elected last year, which coincided with a decline in the Turkish economy and Ankara’s growing isolation in the region while Israel forged new ties with Sunni Arab states.