Turks’ mediation lost in crossfire

Turks’ mediation lost in crossfire

ANKARA - The Israeli military offensive in the Gaza Strip has inflicted a blow on the Turkey-mediated indirect peace talks between Israel and Syria, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said yesterday.

"The continuation of talks under these conditions is naturally impossible," he told a press conference after a meeting with his visiting Egyptian counterpart, Ahmed Abul Gheit. 

"To make war on the Israeli-Palestinian track and at the same time to make peace on the Israeli-Syrian track: these two cannot go together," he said. 

His remarks came as confirmation after a Syrian official on Sunday, said Damascus had suspended indirect negotiations with Tel-Aviv in response to the attacks on the Gaza Strip.

Regional heavyweights Turkey and Egypt urged Israel to "immediately" stop its deadly offensive in the Gaza Strip, warning tensions could spread to the Middle East.

"We call on Israel to immediately stop the military operation," Babacan said. "The continuation of the conflict may spread beyond the boundaries of Gaza and reach another phase that would pose a serious risk to the region."

Gheit said the situation in the region was at a "very dangerous" stage, adding that he and Babacan discussed how an immediate ceasefire could be secured.

"We continue our role to mediate and convince the two parties, Hamas and Israel, to reach a ceasefire to be followed with a truce," an Egyptian diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. Egypt brokered the six-month truce between Hamas and Israel that expired more than a week ago.

The Egyptian foreign minister arrived in Ankara for a short visit after a telephone conversation between the presidents of Turkey and Egypt, Abdullah Gül and Hosni Mobarak, and later in the day met with Gül and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

At the press conference, Gheit said he would share a secret that he and Babacan discussed and analyzed Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's visit to Turkey last Monday and Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni's contacts in Egypt only two days before the Israeli military operation began. He stressed that "we have done our best to halt the conflict."

Turkish diplomats said discussions for progress in peace talks between Israel and Syria were the focus during Olmert’s talks in Ankara. But, alarmed by the developments in the region since the expiry of the truce, Ankara warned Tel-Aviv against violence. Olmert said Israel had to protect its citizens in the face of raining rocket missiles fired by Hamas from the impoverished region, the Daily News learned from sources.

Profound regret
In severe criticism over the weekend, Erdoğan condemned the Israeli air strikes on Gaza, calling them a sign of "disrespect" toward Ankara's peace efforts. Babacan said Israel's air attacks led to "profound regret and disappointment" in Turkey. "I repeat my call for an immediate ceasefire," he said. "The guns should be silenced and diplomacy should start working."

Babacan urged Hamas, which controls Gaza, to halt rocket attacks on Israel. He, however, did not rule out any contacts with Hamas, saying communication channels with all parties were wide open. "We believe that communications channels should be kept open. We are talking to all parties. Dialogue and diplomacy must be the basic instrument in solving problems," he said. On the diplomatic front, Turkey has intensified contacts at the international level with Babacan, calling for an urgent meeting of Islamic countries. The Organization of the Islamic Conference, or OIC, will convene in mid-January, he noted. Babacan held a telephone conversation with Livni, while President Gül called his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and stressed Turkey placed priority on restoring an immediate ceasefire and the access of humanitarian aid to the Gaza Strip, said a statement released by the presidency.

Mercan, the head of Parliament's Foreign Affairs Commission, said he stepped down from membership in the Israeli caucus. "Israel's attacks at Gaza are a crime against humanity. This is an unnamed genocide gradually developing. This operation is also disrespectful to Turkey," he said. The head of the Palestinian caucus in Parliament, Zeyid Aslan from the ruling party, condemned the attacks, calling them "genocide."

Several nongovernmental organizations across Turkey staged protests yesterday, chanting slogans in opposition to Israel. In Ankara, a group from the Turkish Public Workers' Labor Union, or Kamu-Sen, laid a black wreath and threw eggs at the Israeli Embassy. Meanwhile, Istanbul Municipality cancelled the New Year celebrations planned to be held in the Taksim Square due to the attacks in Gaza.
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