June 30, 2010 / 7:58 PM / 9 years ago

Netanyahu envoy, Turkish minister in secret talks: report

JERUSALEM/ANKARA (Reuters) - An envoy for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held secret talks on Wednesday with Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu on salvaging ties frayed by the Gaza ship raid, Israeli and Turkish media reported.

The envoy, Israeli Trade and Industry Minister Benjamin Ben-Eliezer, met Davutoglu in Brussels, Turkey’s NTV news channel said, adding that they agreed to continue the talks at an undisclosed time and location.

A similar report on Israel’s Channel Two television did not specify the venue for the meeting, but said Ben-Eliezer’s unannounced fence-mending mission had taken him through Zurich.

A spokeswoman for the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv said she had no knowledge of such a meeting, which could mark an easing of Ankara’s fury at Israel over its killing of nine Turks aboard an aid ship bound for the blockaded Gaza Strip on May 31.

Asked about the Channel Two report, Netanyahu’s office said in a statement: “Minister Ben-Eliezer informed the prime minister of an offer by a Turkish figure to hold an unofficial meeting. The prime minister saw nothing to prevent such a meeting, as in recent weeks there have been various initiatives for contacts with Turkey.”

Israel, which strictly controls Gaza’s borders in what it says is a precaution against arms smuggling, has defended the actions of marines who boarded the pro-Palestinian ship, arguing they opened fire after being attacked with knives and clubs.

But following Western criticism, including from its largest ally the United States, Israel has since eased a land blockade of Gaza where 1.5 million Palestinians live, allowing most civilian goods through, while continuing to enforce a naval embargo of the coastal territory.

It also launched on Monday a commission of inquiry into the interception of the ship, though the panel’s make-up and limited powers have been criticized by Turkey, which withdrew its ambassador to Israel and canceled joint military exercises.

Writing by Dan Williams and Ayla Yackley; editing by Philippa Fletcher/David Stamp

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