Turkish minister in Saudi Arabia for talks to mend ties, end boycott

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By Orhan Coskun

ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey's foreign minister arrived in Saudi Arabia on Monday for talks aimed at overcoming a rift over the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul that led to bitter recriminations and a Saudi boycott of Turkish goods.

Mevlut Cavusoglu was due to hold talks in the kingdom after years of tensions between the two regional powers, which are also at odds over Turkish support for Qatar in a dispute with its Gulf neighbours and over President Tayyip Erdogan's backing of the Muslim Brotherhood, which is banned in Saudi Arabia.

Turkish officials had said Cavusoglu's visit could include talks on possible sales of Turkish drones to Saudi Arabia, which they said Riyadh had requested. The current violent clashes in Jerusalem may also overshadow the bilateral talks.

"In Saudi Arabia to discuss bilateral relations and important regional issues, especially the attacks at the Al Aqsa Mosque and the oppression against the Palestinian people," Cavusoglu wrote on Twitter upon his arrival in Saudi Arabia.

Qatar's emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, is also visiting Saudi Arabia's Jeddah on Monday evening and will meet the Saudi crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, to discuss bilateral ties and regional and international matters of common interest.

Qatar has close relations with Turkey and may be facilitating the latter's talks with Riyadh, after the two Gulf countries reached in January a breakthrough in a three-year-old dispute. A statement issued by the emir's office did not give further details.

More than 300 Palestinians were wounded on Monday, the Palestinian Red Crescent said, as Palestinian protesters threw rocks and Israeli police fired stun grenades and rubber bullets outside al Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem.

Later in the day, the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas said it had fired rockets into Israel, triggering warning sirens in Jerusalem and near the Gaza border, in an apparent response to the Palestinian injuries.

Erdogan said on Saturday the ongoing clashes showed Israel was a "terror state", and that Ankara was working to mobilise international institutions. On Monday he spoke to Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh, state-owned Anadolu agency said.

Cavusoglu's trip was initially intended to focus on mending bilateral ties that soured when Khashoggi - a critic of Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler Prince Mohammed bin Salman - was killed by a Saudi hit squad in Istanbul in 2018.

Erdogan said at the time the order to kill Khashoggi came from the "highest levels" of the Saudi government, and a U.S. intelligence report released in February found Prince Mohammed had approved the killing - a charge Saudi Arabia rejects.

The crisis prompted an unofficial Saudi trade boycott which slashed the value of Turkish imports by 98%. Saudi Arabia is also closing eight Turkish schools in the kingdom, Anadolu reported last month.

Cavusoglu's two-day visit follows Turkey's talks last week with Egypt, another U.S.-allied regional power, also aimed at repairing troubled relations.

A senior Turkish official said that the trade embargo and the conflicts in Syria and Libya would be discussed with the Saudis. A Saudi request for Turkish armed drones may also be on the agenda, two Turkish officials said.

Erdogan said in March Saudi Arabia sought to buy Turkish armed unmanned aerial vehicles. Several countries have shown interest in the drones, which were used in conflicts in Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

A foreign diplomat in Riyadh said the Saudis wanted to use Turkish drones against Iran-aligned Houthi fighters in Yemen, and would discuss buying Turkish-made Bayraktar TB2 drones.

(Writing by Daren Butler; Additional reporting by Marwa Rashad in London; Editing by Dominic Evans, Hugh Lawson and Mark Heinrich)

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