Turkish Leader Visits Jerusalem Holy Site (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 05/02/05 3:01 PM)
AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS
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RAMALLAH, West Bank -- Guarded by scores of Israeli and Palestinian
security officials, Turkey´s prime minister on Monday visited the Al
Aqsa Mosque, Islam´s third-holiest site and one of the most
politically sensitive areas in the region.
World leaders have been flooding into the region in recent months to
capitalize on a drop in violence and new hope for peace following
the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat last year. British
Prime Minister Tony Blair visited in December and Russian President
Vladimir Putin came last week, in the first visit here by a Kremlin
Both visits were seen as efforts by the leaders to burnish their
international reputations by casting themselves as key mediators in
the Mideast conflict. With some in Washington questioning Turkey´s
role as a strategic ally, and Europeans increasingly skeptical about
letting Turkey into the European Union, Turkish Prime Minister Recep
Tayyip Erdogan appeared to have come for the same reason.
Dozens of Israeli security guards surrounded Erdogan as he arrived
at the disputed site in the Old City known as the Temple Mount to
Jews and the Noble Sanctuary to Muslims. The site, which once held
the biblical Jewish Temples and now holds Al Aqsa, is claimed by
both Jews and Muslims.
In 2003, Muslim extremists attacked Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed
Maher _ jostling him, shouting at him and throwing shoes, as he
tried to pray at the mosque. Maher was briefly hospitalized. Egypt
was pressuring Palestinian militants to halt attacks on Israel at
On Sunday Erdogan, whose party has its roots in Turkey´s Islamic
movement, held talks with Israeli leaders in an effort to repair
strained relations with the Jewish state. In a sign of closer ties,
Israel and Turkey said they would set up a hot line for instant
communications on terror threats.
Erdogan, only the second Turkish prime minister to visit Israel,
says he hopes to offer himself as a mediator in the conflict between
the Palestinians and Israel.
"Turkey was always committed to peace and always will be committed
to peace and security in the region," he said on arriving.
Erdogan later laid a wreath at Israel´s Holocaust memorial, Yad
Vashem, but in a break with protocol did not cover his head at the
Hall of Remembrance, where the ceremony took place.
In a gesture ahead of Erdogan´s trip, Turkey gave the Palestinian
Authority deeds to lands and property in the West Bank and Gaza it
had acquired during the nearly 400-year rule here of the Ottoman
Empire, the Turkish daily Milliyet reported Sunday.
Turkey hopes the 140,000 pages of deeds, covering the years 1500 to
1914, will help Palestinians defend their rights in local and
international courts, the paper said.
Israel and Turkey, an overwhelmingly Muslim state, have long had
strong military ties and important trade links. But relations became
strained last year when Erdogan criticized Israel´s treatment of the
Israel also welcomed the visit, which it can use to showcase the
benefits of its alliance with a Muslim nation.
"The example of the relationship between Israel and Turkey is a good
example of the possibilities of relations between the state of
Israel and states that have large Muslim majorities," Israeli
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom said Monday. "I am sure that Turkey
can assist us a lot in improving our relations with the Arab world."
Turkey is one of Israel´s few friends in the Muslim world and the
two have close economic and military ties. But relations between the
two countries soured amid continued bloodshed between Israel and the
Palestinians, with whom many Turks sympathize. (Copyright 2005
Associated Press. 05/02/05)
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