Barak: Aid to Turkey could help turn a new leaf

Plane carrying 7 mobile homes set to depart; defense minister says the aid is humanitarian and would be sent any time it is needed.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak at IDF officers' graduation 311 (photo credit: Linoy Elihai / Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak at IDF officers' graduation 311
(photo credit: Linoy Elihai / Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Ehud Barak said on Wednesday that aid sent to Turkey following a deadly earthquake was humanitarian and would be sent any time it is needed, but also could help end the deterioration in relations between the two countries.
The aid, he said, "could also contribute, in time, to relieving tensions and turning a new leaf" between the two countries, the defense minister said at an IDF officers' graduation ceremony at the Bahad 1 training base in the Negev.
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Ankara on Tuesday finally accepted Israel’s offer of earthquake aid, two days after a devastating tremblor, and following a number of rebuffed Israeli government offers of assistance.
According to a Foreign Ministry spokesman, the Turks made a request through the embassy in Ankara for Israel to send mobile homes to the devastated Van province.The Defense Ministry chartered a civilian Boeing 747 on Tuesday night to take seven mobile homes to Turkey on Wednesday. According to a Defense Ministry official, this will be the first of a number of planes that will be sent carrying aid.
The official would not confirm if a civilian plane – instead of an IDF transport – was used because of a Turkish ban on Israeli military flights over Turkey since the Mavi Marmara incident in May 2010.
Since the earthquake hit on Sunday, both President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu contacted their Turkish counterparts and offered assistance.
At this point the Turks have not asked for Israeli personnel to help rescue and recovery efforts.
The American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee also announced on Monday it has started collecting money to “ensure the victims’ immediate needs are addressed.”
“Our hearts go out to the people of Turkey at this tragic time and we offer our condolences to the families of those lost in the earthquake,” said Steven Schwager, JDC’s chief executive officer.
“Building off our historic work in Turkey, the disaster-preparedness training we have provided in the past, and the strength of our partnership with the Turkish Jewish community, we are responding quickly and strategically to help victims in their time of need.”
After a massive 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck northwestern Turkey in 1999, Israel dispatched a search and rescue team of some 250 people, plus a field hospital.
On Sunday, IDF Chief of General Staff Lt.- Gen. Benny Gantz ordered the Home Front Command to prepare a mission to head out to Turkey, despite the country’s refusal of aid at the time. The army said it was preparing a mission just in case Ankara changed its mind. Defense Minister Ehud Barak set up a small team in the ministry on Tuesday to look at what other aid can be supplied, and how to best get it there.
One Foreign Ministry source warned against reading any diplomatic significance into the Turkish acceptance of the Israeli assistance, saying all this showed was that there was a massive humanitarian tragedy and a real need for help in dealing with it. The number of dead in the earthquake rose Tuesday to over 430, with that figure expected to grow.
Turkey sent a firefighting airplane to Israel last December to help put out the Mount Carmel Forest fire. This gesture did not lead to a breakthrough in thawing the tensions between Israel and Turkey, though initially there was some hope it would do so.