Turkey and Israel mark milestone by restoring full diplomatic ties

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Israel and Turkey agreed to fully restore diplomatic ties and return ambassadors to the two countries on Wednesday. 

Relations between Turkey and Israel have gradually improved in recent months, after a years-long rupture over Palestine. 

Ankara immediately said the move did not mean Turkey was abandoning Palestinians and that it would “continue to defend” their cause.

“Upgrading relations will contribute to deepening ties between the two peoples, expanding economic, trade, and cultural ties, and strengthening regional stability,” said the office of the Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid on Wednesday.

Turkey-Israel tensions were first sparked in 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish NGO ship carrying aid for Gaza. Turkish activists and Israeli soldiers were injured in the incident, both sides claim.  

In 2018, the two Middle Eastern countries expelled one another’s ambassadors over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests in Gaza against the opening of the United States Embassy in Jerusalem.

Lapid’s office announced that ambassadors and consul generals would return, after the “decision [was made] to raise the level of ties to full diplomatic relations” with his Turkish counterpart.

The Israeli prime minister spoke on the phone with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday evening, according to a statement from his office.

The pair agreed to strengthen relations which they hoped would lead to “many achievements”, especially in the fields of tourism and economics, it added. 

Lapid said direct flights from Israel to Turkey would also resume soon.

Visits by Israelis to Turkey, who number in the tens of thousands, also contributed to the rapprochement. 

A visit to Turkey by Israeli President Isaac Herzog in March, followed by visits by both foreign ministers, helped warm relations after more than a decade of tensions.

Turkey’s top diplomat Mevlüt Cavusoglu said on Wednesday his country would “continue to defend the rights of the Palestinians,” despite thawing relations with Israel.

“It is important that our messages [on the Palestinian question] are transmitted directly through the ambassador,” he said, announcing that a Turkish ambassador would be sent to Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital.

Erdogan is a staunch supporter of the Palestinians and has in the past criticised Israel, which occupied the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967, while subjecting Gaza to a 15-year blockade.