Israeli and Turkish leaders meet as tensions ease

On the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, Erdogan and Lapid discuss Israelis missing or held by Palestinian militants Hamas

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid. AFP
Beta V.1.0 - Powered by automated translation

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has had his first meeting with an Israeli prime minister in more than a decade.

Yair Lapid sought his help to free Israeli citizens held by Hamas, the militant Palestinian group.

The two leaders met on Tuesday on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly, a month after the countries announced the restoration of diplomatic ties following years of tensions.

Mr Lapid "brought up the issue of missing and captive Israelis and the importance of bringing them home", the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The Israeli leader also raised concerns about the country's arch-enemy, Iran, and "thanked President Erdogan for intelligence co-operation", his office said.

Turkey in 1949 became the first Muslim-majority nation to recognise Israel.

But relations soured under Mr Erdogan, who has moved away from his country's secularism since he became paramount leader in 2003. He last met an Israeli prime minister in 2008.

Relations deteriorated sharply in 2010 after the deaths of 10 civilians in an Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to breach a blockade by carrying aid into the Gaza Strip.

Mr Erdogan has maintained relations with Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the densely populated Gaza Strip. The group is believed to be holding two Israeli civilians.

In his address to the UN General Assembly, Mr Erdogan renewed calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

But he also said that Turkey was "determined to continue to develop our relations with Israel for the sake of the future, peace and stability of not only the region, but also of Israel, the Palestinian people and ours", AFP reported.

Mr Erdogan in recent months has moved to reconcile with regional rivals including Saudi Arabia, with some analysts believing he is prioritising efforts to address Turkey's economic woes before elections next year.

Updated: September 21, 2022, 7:58 AM