Prime Minister Ehud Olmert agreed Thursday to let a Turkish delegation inspect excavations at the Mughrabi Gate, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday after a meeting between the two leaders in Ankara. But Israel's Ambassador to Turkey Pinhas Avivi said that the team would be made up of officials from the Turkish embassy in Tel Aviv, and not - as press reports had initially indicated - a team of experts from Ankara.
Q&A on the Temple Mount
Erdogan said Olmert had shown him photographs of the construction work near the Temple Mount during the prime minister's two-day trip to Turkey. However, the Turkish prime minister said Olmert had failed to convince him that the work would not harm the holy sites there.
Olmert, according to his spokeswoman Miri Eisin, told reporters after the meeting that it was significant that Erdogan did not level any public criticism of the excavations during their joint press conference. Olmert said that anyone who wanted to come look at the work taking place at the site was invited to do so, and that Israel had "nothing to hide." The issue has attracted a great deal of attention in Moslem Turkey, and before Olmert's visit Erdogan warned Israel not to increase tension over excavations at the site, saying it would lead to an uproar in the Islamic world.
Meanwhile, MKs criticized Olmert's decision to agree to the Turkish inspections of the Mughrabi dig.
During a stormy Knesset session on Thursday afternoon, MK Yuval Steinitz (Likud) said that Olmert was "selling Jerusalem and creating a severe breach in Israel's sovereignty over the city," Israel Radio reported.
MK Silvan Shalom (Likud) called Olmert's decision "foolish," adding that it would damage Israel's sovereignty and the sovereignty of Jordan that "has been appointed by the Arab world over the Temple Mount."
Taleb a-Sanaa (UAL) said that it was an "astonishing" and "ad hoc" decision. What has Turkey got to do with al-Aksa Mosque?" he asked, saying that Olmert must speak to the Wakf, the Palestinians and the Jordanians.
Olmert, at a press conference following a more than two-hour private meting with Erdogan, reiterated that Israel wanted to make peace with Syria, but he urged Damascus to stop supporting terrorism. In comments later to Israeli journalists, Eisin quoted Olmert as saying that Israel was interested in peace, but not - as the Syrians seemed to be interested - merely in the "process." Asked if he was afraid that if the process failed it could lead to something else, Olmert replied, "that is a possibility."
Olmert told reporters that the issue of mediating with Syria over the return to Israel of the remains of Eli Cohen, the spy who was hanged in Damascus in 1965, did come up in his meeting, but he would provide no further details.
"As a modern Muslim country, Turkey can play a role building ties between Israel and Muslim countries that do not have relations with Israel," Olmert said at the news conference.
Erdogan said that he would visit Syria "in the next few weeks.'" "We have to encourage positive developments between the two sides," he said. "If we stay optimistic, we will able to get results."
Erdogan also said that he will invite a new Palestinian government to Turkey for diplomatic talks if the Fatah and Hamas factions can work out their remaining differences and form a joint coalition.
Regarding Iran, Olmert told reporters that the Turkish prime minister supported Israel's position regarding Iran's nuclear program. "I was not surprised by the Turkish prime minister's remarks on the Iran issue, which proved his support for Israel's stance," he said.
Bloomberg's Jonathan Ferziger and AP contributed to this report.