'Turkey's Erdogan to visit Gaza at the end of May'

After postponement requested by US, Turkish PM announces plans to visit Gaza in late May; will travel to Washington beforehand.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan_311 (photo credit: Reuters)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan_311
(photo credit: Reuters)
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said on Sunday he will visit the Gaza Strip at the end of May after an official trip to the United States in the middle of the month.
Erdogan did not give a specific date for the visit but said during a televised speech in Ankara it would be “around the end of May.”
He will travel to Washington to meet President Barack Obama after May 16.
The Turkish leader, who has for years spoken of his desire to visit the Palestinian enclave, was expected to travel there this month but postponed his trip at the request of Washington, the Turkish Daily Hurriyet and other local media reported.
The United States wanted the trip delayed, the reports said, so as not to spoil a nascent rapprochement between Turkey and Israel.
Last month, Obama brokered a first step in reconciliation between the two former allies when Israel apologized for the killing of nine Turks in 2010 when it raided the Gaza bound ship the Mavi Marmara.
At the end of Obama’s visit to Israel last month, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu apologized to his Turkish counterpart over the killings and pledged compensation to the bereaved, meeting a long-standing Turkish demand. Turkey, for its part, appeared to back off a separate demand that Israel stop blockading Gaza.
However, the Turkish newspaper Sunday’s Zamen reported that Erdogan said he would not send Turkey’s ambassador back to Israel until the blockade on the Gaza Strip is lifted.
He explained that Israel must lift the blockade before full diplomatic ties can be restored, according to Sunday’s Zamen.
Ankara also asked that Israel delay sending a delegation to work out the details for the reconciliation. The delegation, which had been scheduled to travel to Turkey at the start of this month, is now due to head there on April 22.
An Israeli official said that Jerusalem was reserving judgement on Ankara’s statements and actions until its delegation returned from Turkey. Nothing will happen until that meeting, the official said.
Israel wants to restore ties with Turkey, but it is also realistic about the relationship, the official said. Israel seeks to restore ties because of the civil violence in Syria, a country that borders both Israel and Turkey, the official said.
Any improvement in the relationship with Turkey is a step forward in the right direction, the Israeli official said.
US Secretary of State John Kerry met Erdogan in Istanbul last week, his second visit to Turkey in just over a month, but it was not clear if they had discussed the Gaza visit.