Turkish president 'intent on thaw with Israel'

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AFP Photo/ADEM ALTAN)

Jerusalem (AFP) - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has told US Jewish leaders he intends to improve ties with Israel and confirmed that talks on the subject were taking place in Geneva, they said Sunday.

Erdogan met representatives of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organisations in Ankara on Tuesday, top officials from the group said.

"He talked about the fact that there is currently a thaw in the relationship between Turkey and Israel, and his hope is that that thaw will continue to get warmer and the relationship will get closer," Stephen Greenberg, chairman of the Jewish group, told reporters before a conference in Jerusalem.

Israeli officials have declined to comment, and the Turkish foreign ministry has said it would neither confirm nor deny the new talks in Geneva that were taking place last week.

Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman of the Jewish group who also attended the meeting with Erdogan, said the Turkish leader spoke of the talks with them.

"He certainly talked in a positive way about the negotiations, and he said some of the issues are for the negotiators in Geneva," Hoenlein said.

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out in 2010 over the deadly storming by Israeli commandos of a Gaza-bound Turkish aid ship, the Mavi Marmara.

Erdogan further raised hackles in Israel with his sometimes inflammatory rhetoric towards the Jewish state.

The atmosphere was transformed following the revelation in December that the two sides had met that month in secret talks to seek a rapprochement.

The Geneva talks reportedly began on Wednesday and were thought to be the first since the December meeting. It is unclear if they are still ongoing.

Turkey has repeatedly made clear three conditions for a normalisation of relations: the lifting of the Gaza blockade, compensation for the Mavi Marmara victims and an apology for the incident.

Israel has already apologised and negotiations appear to have made progress on compensation, leaving the blockade on the Islamist Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip the main hurdle.

The Jewish leaders also met Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi last week and spoke of cooperation with Israel, particularly on security.