(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
President Shimon Peres will leave on Sunday for a three-day state visit to Turkey amid growing efforts to bridge the gaps between Israel and the Palestinian Authority ahead of the Annapolis peace summit scheduled for later this month.
Peres will be the guest of Turkish President Abdullah Gul and will become the first Israeli leader to speak in a Muslim parliament after he addresses the Grand National Assembly of Turkey together with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Tuesday.
Earlier in the day, both leaders will meet with Gul and sign a memorandum on the establishment of a new industrial zone in the West Bank. The meeting is part of the Ankara Forum that was set up in 2005 to bring together Turkish, Israel and Palestinian industrialists.
In 2006, Turkey signed an agreement to take control of the Erez Industrial Zone in Gaza but with the Hamas takeover of Gaza in June, Ankara has decided to try and establish a joint Israeli-Palestinian industrial zone in the West Bank. Abbas' government is scheduled to announce in Turkey how much land it plans to allocate for the project, which is expected to create jobs for thousands of Palestinians.
Turkish officials said that talks with Peres would focus on the possibility of renewing Israeli negotiations with Syria, the Iranian threat as well as the growing rift between Turkey and the US over an initiative in the Congress to formally recognize the Armenian genocide of 1915.
"Turkey can play a first-tier role in the peace process," Peres said last week, adding that the country's moderate and democratic nature served as a counterweight to the extremist Islam embodied by Iran. "If the Turkish way will win, all of us will win, Muslims and Jews, Arabs and Israelis."
During his visit, Peres will receive an honorary doctorate from Bilent University in Ankara and will also hold talks with Turkish Prime Minister Recap Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. He will also visit the Neveh Shalom Synagogue in Istanbul that was targeted in a terrorist attack in 2003.
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