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Turkish Leader Visits Jerusalem Holy Site (AP) By MOHAMMED DARAGHMEH RAMALLAH 05/02/05 3:01 PM)Source: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/05/02/AR2005050200256.html AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS AP} ASSOCIATED PRESS Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 leader.

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 the time.

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 Palestinians.

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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