Israeli PM meets Turkish president, counterpart for Mideast peace talks

Israeli PM meets Turkish president, counterpart for Mideast peace talks

Israel's outgoing Prime Minister Ehud Olmert met Turkish leaders Monday for talks that centered on the Middle East and Turkish-mediated peace talks between Israel and Syria. (UPDATED)

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Olmert met President Abdullah Gul before holding talks with Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan over dinner. The talks in the Turkish capital of Ankara lasted more than five hours. 

 

Erdogan and Olmert held "a fruitful and comprehensive meeting", a statement from Erdogan's press office said. The statement said the two prime ministers discussed bilateral relations, the situation in Gaza and the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, as well as Syrian-Israeli peace talks.

 

"Whatever we don't do today in the Middle East, we may not be able to achieve tomorrow. We must advance toward direct peace talks between Israel and Syria as soon as possible," Israel's Haaretz daily quoted Olmert as telling Erdogan regarding the progression of the negotiations.

 

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Olmert and Erdogan agreed that the Turkish government would continue to work toward facilitating direct talks between Israel and Syria, Haaretz reported.

 

They also agreed that tenacity was imperative in achieving direct talks, it added. "The path to peace passes through direct talks between the sides, and we must achieve such a process as soon as possible," the two leaders were quoted by the newspaper as saying.

 

Olmert and Erdogan also discussed bilateral issues and Israel’s talks with the Palestinians, Olmert's aides said.

 

"Peace with Syria is attainable. I always thought Turkey would be a very suitable mediator," Israel's Ynewtnews quoted Olmert as telling Gul during their meeting.

 

Olmert's aides told AP that all parties favor direct talks between Israel and Syria, but there was no concrete plan to begin direct contacts, and no date was set for another round of indirect talks in Turkey.

 

Israel and Syria held four rounds of indirect negotiations in Turkey after the peace talks were launched in May. The talks were suspended when Olmert announced he would step down.

 

Syria and Israel held direct talks in the late 1990s and early 2000. But negotiations broke down over the extent of an Israeli withdrawal from land captured in the 1967 war.

 

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In a related development Erdogan told Hamas on Monday he would ask Olmert to lift the blockade of Gaza, a spokesman for the Islamist movement said.

 

Ismail Haniya, the prime minister in the Hamas government of Gaza, "had a telephone conversation with Erdogan who told him of his intention to ask Olmert to end aggressions and the siege of Gaza," spokesman Taher al-Nunu said.

 

Olmert departed from Turkey after his meetings with Gul and Erdogan. 

 

 

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