Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday criticized
Israel’s Rafah operation, saying that although Turkey also suffered from
terrorism and was fighting it, he did not see a difference between what
terrorists were doing and Israel’s demolition of homes and the damage it
was bringing to civilians.

Erdogan met with National Infrastructure Minister Yosef Paritzky, who said
that the Turkish PM renewed offers to mediate between Israel and both the
Palestinians and Syria.

Paritzky said the Turkish leader had been forthright in his criticism of
Israel’s assassination of two Hamas leaders and a recent huge raid on the
Gaza Strip.

“The prime minister was very unhappy, to say the least,” Paritzky told a
small group of reporters.

“He claimed that the activities of the State of Israel do not promote
peace…[But] he is willing to offer his services to mediate, negotiate and
bring peace to the area.”

Muslim but firmly secular Turkey has close economic and security ties with
Israel, which regards Ankara as a valuable ally in the region, but has also
traditionally supported Palestinian aspirations to statehood.

Erdogan, who had previously offered to mediate in the Middle East conflict,
accused Israel in March of “terrorism” after the killing of Hamas leader
Sheikh Ahmed Yassin.

Speaking in a newspaper interview, he said then that the assassination had
seriously damaged peace efforts and there was “nothing left to mediate”.

“We shall be delighted for anyone – and of course Turkey – to be a power
that will bring if not peace, at least some tranquillity to the area,”
Paritzky said.

“If the government of Turkey is willing to offer its good services… I’m
certain we would be happy to accept.”

Paritzky said Erdogan had also conveyed the message that Syria’s President
Bashar Assad, who made a landmark visit to Turkey in January, wanted peace
with Israel.

Erdogan said in December that Turkey would like to help mediate between the
two hostile neighbors, which held sporadic but fruitless peace negotiations
until 2000.

Ankara’s own relations with Damascus have recently thawed after years of
frostiness related to rows over territory, water resources and Syrian
support for Kurdish separatists in Turkey.

But Turkish diplomats said neither Israel nor Syria seemed very interested
in the offer, and in February Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul
specifically ruled out any mediation role.

Paritzky said Erdogan renewed his mediation offer. “He told me…he’s
willing to try to do it again if it will bring any results,” he said.

Paritzky said Syria would have to do more to show it was serious about
peace before Israel was convinced.

“If it is true that President Assad does indeed want peace and it’s not
just lip-service to the Western world…if indeed he’s willing to go into
this long and hard process of negotiating for peace, he will find us as
partners,” he said


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