Turkey's takeover at Erez overshadowed by Sharon's illness

Israel and Turkey signed an agreement Thursday under which Turkey will manage the Erez industrial zone, but the exchange between the two sides was scaled back because of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke. "Both sides want to make this agreement work," said Foreign Ministry Spokesman Mark Regev. He added that Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom and his Turkish counterpart, Abdullah Gul, also discussed Lebanon, the Israeli-Palestinian diplomatic process, and Iran during their meeting. "Turkey is a friendly country to Israel. That doesn't mean we have to see all the issues exactly the same," Regev said, though he stressed the "upbeat" nature of talks on bilateral relations between the two states. Under the new agreement, first reported in The Jerusalem Post, the Turkish Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges (TOBB) will manage Erez, while Turkey will provide substantial investments in building plants in the area. Goods manufactured in the zone should be able to enter the EU, US and Persian Gulf countries duty-free. Turkish companies will be encouraged to invest in the project. The TOBB is a non-profit organization serving as a link between the business community and the Turkish government. "The realization of this project is really very important," Gul told the CNN Turk news channel before leaving Turkey. "Those people need to work," Gul added. "I guess that jobs will be created for some 10,000 Palestinians." During his visit, Gul signed a joint declaration on the initiative with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah.