'Erdogan intent on Gaza trip despite US, PA wishes'

Turkish PM likely to follow through on Gaza visit, 'Asharq Alawsat reports; Israeli delegation in Ankara to discuss restoration of ties.

Kerry Erdogan 7.4.13 370 (photo credit: Reuters)
Kerry Erdogan 7.4.13 370
(photo credit: Reuters)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is not likely to postpone his trip to the Gaza Strip planned for late May, despite US Secretary of State John Kerry and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas having asked him to cancel or delay the visit, London-based pan-Arabic daily Asharq Alawsat quoted Turkish officials as saying on Monday.
Abbas visited Istanbul over the weekend to ask Erdogan to cancel his plans to visit Gaza.
“President Abbas is hoping to convince Erdogan to cancel the visit or delay it until the Palestinians achieve national unity,” a PA official in Ramallah said last week.
The PA believes that a visit by Erdogan to Gaza would deepen Palestinian divisions, said Azzam al- Ahmed, member of the Fatah Central Committee and a close adviser to Abbas.
But on Monday Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said any request to prevent Erdogan’s trip was “objectionable.”
“Only the Turkish government decides when and where the prime minister or any other Turkish official travels to,” Arinc told reporters.
According to Turkish officials, Erdogan is sensitive to Abbas’s concerns, but believes it is important to make his visit to Gaza close to May 31, the three-year anniversary of the Israeli raid on the Mavi Marmara, in which nine pro-Palestinian Turks hoping to break the blockade of Gaza were killed by Israeli forces.
Erdogan is floating the idea of first visiting Abbas in Ramallah, and using the trip as a springboard to advance reconciliation efforts between Fatah and Hamas, Asharq Alawsat reported.
Kerry said on Sunday that the US had told Erdogan it would be better for him to delay the planned trip to Gaza. Erdogan, who has for years spoken of his desire to visit the Palestinian enclave, said last week he would go there after an official visit to the United States next month. But Kerry said a Turkish visit might distract from efforts to revive Middle East peace talks.
“We thought that the timing of it is really critical with respect to the peace process we are trying to get off the ground and that we would like to see the parties begin with as little outside distraction as possible,” Kerry told a news conference in Istanbul.
Erdogan had originally been expected to visit Gaza in April, but postponed his trip at the request of the United States. He will travel to Washington to meet US President Barack Obama on May 16.
Israeli negotiators traveled to Turkey on Monday to begin talks to advance the further normalization of ties between the countries following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s apology to Erdogan over the Mavi Marmara last month.
The envoys are expected to discuss the amount of reparations Israel would pay to the families of the Turks killed in the Mavi Marmara raid.
Reuters and Khaled Abu Toameh contributed to this report.