Israel Permits Materials from Turkey into Gaza for Hospital

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By Serkan Demirtaş, Hurriyet Daily News

Israel has authorized the passage of Turkish trucks through Gaza carrying materials for the construction of the Turkish-Palestine Friendship Hospital, the most symbolic Turkish humanitarian assistance to date for the people of Palestine. The hospital’s inauguration is expected to bring Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Gaza Strip within the year.

The Israeli authorization came Feb. 4 following a nearly two-month long study of a list provided by Turkey on materials to be transported into Gaza through the Kerem Shalom border crossing, a move the Israeli government described as a gesture of goodwill made toward Turkey, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

With 150 beds the hospital will be the biggest one in Gaza and Ramallah once completed, but requires more technical work and construction materials for it to be finished. Financed by the Turkish International Cooperation and Development Agency (TİKA) and constructed by the Aker Construction Company, the hospital will become operational within the year. The inauguration of the hospital will likely serve as a chance for Erdoğan to realize his long-planned visit to Gaza.

Permission for passage came as part of Israel’s decision to soften its embargo over Gaza after terminating military operations into the enclave last fall and starting a fresh round of talks between Israelis and Palestinians over a gradual lifting of sanctions under Egyptian mediation.

The importance of the Israeli decision comes from the very fact that lifting the siege on Gaza constitutes Turkey’s third condition to Israel for normalizing relations, following demands the Israeli government officially apologize and pay compensation to the families of the Mavi Marmara flotilla victims. Israel has been signaling it will do more in terms of easing life conditions of the more than 1.5 million Palestinians living in the Gaza Strip, but has also expressed security concerns.

Turkish officials, however, view Israel allowing Turkish trucks into Gaza as a humanitarian move and claim it should not be considered a political gesture. Yet given the fact that Israel is set to have a new government within the weeks following January elections, diplomatic sources recalled the new government could start a new process and that last week’s decision could play a role in this sense.

“Although I do not want to seem too optimistic over reconciliation between the two countries, I see a window of opportunity in light of the election results,” diplomatic sources told the Daily News.

Although election results certainly weakened the hands of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is likely he will still be able to keep his position in the new term albeit with different coalition partners, most likely Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennet. The fact that he will have to establish a wide-based government seems to be a positive development for Ankara, who believes it would create more sound deliberations in Israel on ties with Turkey. “Once the government is made up, relations with Turkey will surely come before them as an issue,” sources stressed.

Turkey and Israel have worked on a draft text aimed at overcoming the impasse on ties, but have failed in both major attempts.

With the establishment of the new Israeli government many believe the United States will increase its pressure on both sides to resolve bilateral problems and re-launch dialogue. The most urgent issue the two countries could seek ways to cooperate in is the turmoil in Syria, with which both countries share borders.

Apart from regional effects, bilateral problems between Turkey and Israel also have implications in the international arena. Turkey recently acted against Israel’s membership to the board of the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA), despite strong pressure from its Western allies. The U.S. and a number of European countries criticized the Turkish veto on Israel. Turkey also limited Israeli participation in NATO activity. Francis Ricciardone, the U.S. ambassador to Turkey, brought up the Turkey-Israel rift during his meeting with Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu last week.

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