Turkey cut its diplomatic ties with Muammar Gaddafi's Libyan government and recalled its ambassador, the Turkish Official Gazette reported over the weekend.

The move came after Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu visited the eastern rebel stronghold of Benghazi on Sunday and pledged $200 million in aid to the rebel Transitional National Council.

It was time for leader Muammar Gaddafi to leave Libya, Davutoglu said, declaring the rebel National Council "a legitimate representative of the Libyan people."


Turkey Severs Relations with Gaddafi

Turkey has cut off all relations with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, freezing his and his family's assets in Turkey and their entry to the country banned. Turkey's Savings Deposit Insurance Fund (TMSF) is also getting prepared to seize the A&T Bank in which Gaddafi has shares. On the other hand, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu will have official talks with the opponents in Libya's Benghazi city today. The Turkish ambassador in Tripoli, Salim Levent Sahinkaya, has also been called to the capital and the official connection with Gaddafi has been cut down with such move.


Turkey Recognizes Libyan Rebels, Promises More Aid

Turkey's foreign minister recognized Libya's rebel leaders as the country's legitimate representatives and promised them an additional $200 million in aid during a visit Sunday.

The visit by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu marked Turkey's strongest show of support yet for the opposition forces trying to out Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi.

Turkey, a regional power, initially balked at the idea of military action in Libya, and Turkish companies were involved in Libyan construction projects worth billions of dollars before the outbreak of an anti- Gaddafi uprising in February.

The revolt has turned into a protracted, largely deadlocked, armed conflict, in which the rebels control Libya's eastern third, while Gadhafi clings to power in the west, crushing pockets of resistance there. As a NATO member, Turkey is now supporting the alliance's air strikes against targets linked to the Gaddafi regime.

Davutoglu met with Mustafa Abdul-Jalil, chairman of the rebels' National Transitional Council, in a heavily guarded government building in the city of Benghazi, the rebel's main stronghold in eastern Libya.

Later Sunday, a rebel spokesman played down media reports quoting Abdul-Jalil as saying Gaddafi has the option to remain in Libya, provided he resigns and orders a cease-fire. Abdel-Hafiz Ghoga suggested the rebel chief was expressing a personal view, saying that the idea is "not part of any discussions on our part in negotiations."

"Let Gaddafi show us one place in Libya where he hasn't harmed, tortured or killed people and he could stay there, but this place doesn't exist," Ghoga said.

The Turkish visitor, meanwhile, said his country recognizes the rebel leaders as the legitimate representatives of the Libyan people. Several other countries, including France, Qatar and Italy, have previously recognized the rebels.

Ali al-Essawi, who serves as the rebels' foreign minister, said, "Turkey has given us political, as well as financial, support and humanitarian aid."

Turkey has already granted the Libyan opposition $100 million in aid and promised an additional $200 million. Some of the money is to be used to improve the infrastructure of Benghazi and rehabilitate its airport.

Temel Kotil, chief executive officer of the Turkish Airlines, said his company would resume flights to Benghazi as soon as the security situation improves. Mahmoud Jibril, one of the rebel leaders, will pay a two-day visit to Turkey on Tuesday to discuss the promised aid in more detail.

"For us, the destiny of Libya is the same as the destiny of Turkey," Davutoglu said. "I expressed our solidarity and commitment."

Davutoglu's trip to Benghazi on Sunday is the most powerful signal that Turkey, which has vast trade interests in Libya, is throwing its weight behind the Libyan opposition despite its long-time relations with Gaddafi.

The foreign minister said he hopes the Libya crisis can be solved peacefully this month, before the start of the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan at the beginning of August. The fighting has split Libya into a rebel-controlled east and a Gaddafi -run west.

"At the end of the day, there should be a political solution based on demands and aspirations of the Libyan people," Davutoglu said. "If there is an agreement, we will do everything for the implementation of that agreement."

Turkey has called on Gaddafi to withdraw from power and pave the way for "democracy and transparency."

On the way to the airport for his flight home, Davutoglu stopped in Benghazi's Freedom Square. He was greeted by hundreds of demonstrators, including war widows, who chanted "Gaddafi out."

A coalition including France, Britain and the United States began striking Gaddafi's forces under a United Nations resolution to protect civilians on March 19, giving the rebels air support. NATO assumed control of the air campaign over Libya on March 31. It is joined by a number of Arab allies.


Turkey Helping to Stop Flotilla, Barak says

Israel Defense Minister Ehud Barak says that Turkey is helping Israel to thwart a Gaza-bound aid flotilla, expressing his pleasure with efforts thus far to halt the ships.

"The governments of Greece, Cyprus, and Turkey are working to curtail this thing. It's a result of extensive work by the Foreign Ministry, the Defense Ministry and the Prime Minister's Office," Barak was quoted saying on Sunday by several Israeli media outlets. The news comes after The Associated Press reported that Greek authorities had arrested the captain of a boat that is part of the flotilla. The 60-year-old captain, John Klusmire, was being held at Piraeus police headquarters and will remain there until a court hearing Tuesday.

In Jerusalem, Israel has denied claims it sabotaged ships trying to breach its sea blockade of the Gaza Strip. Activists have accused Israel of damaging two ships docked in Turkey and Greece that were part of the flotilla.

Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor dismissed the sabotage charges as "ridiculous," calling them "sad conspiracy theories."

Selçuk Ünal, a spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry, said authorities had determined that there was no act of sabotage on an Irish vessel in the flotilla that docked in the Turkish port of Göcek on the Aegean Sea.


Erdogan Working for Shalit's Release

An Israeli-Turkish businessman recently handed Primce Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan a letter from Noam Shalit asking him to convince Hamas to accept German mediator's swap deal proposal. Turkish PM pledged to handle matter personally as way to rebuild Israel ties.

Turkey is increasing its involvement as a mediator in efforts to release of captive soldier Gilad Shalit, Yedioth Ahronoth reported Sunday.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently stated that international elements have been working on Shalit's behalf in the past few days. It has been cleared for publication that Netanyahu had, in fact, been referring to Turkey, which is considered the country with the most influence over Hamas, possibly more than Egypt.
Turkey has been working to form a deal for Shalit's release opposite Hamas for the past year, Yedioth Ahronoth has learned. It had maintained a low profile but recently decided to boost efforts apparently as a way to rebuild ties with Israel.

Israeli-Turkish businessman Eliko Dönmez met with Erdoğan after last year's flotilla and handed him a letter written by the captive soldier's father Noam. Shalit asked Erdoğan to use his influence over Hamas in order to convince the group to accept the German mediator's proposal of releasing 1,000 prisoners in exchange for his son.

He also expressed regret over the death of Turkish citizens in the raid. Shalit noted that Hamas refuses to allow the Red Cross to visit his son and asked for a meeting with Erdoğan.

Red Crescent Involvement

Turkey started its involvement in the matter following the letter with Dönmez acting as mediator. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu apparently discussed the matter with Hamas Politburo chief Khaled Mashaal several times.

The Turkish Red Crescent was also involved in efforts, and tried to convince Hamas to meet its representatives in Gaza, but Hamas refused. The possibility of handing over a letter to Shalit from his family was also raised.

Sources familiar with the issue said that Erdoğan had taken the matter upon himself personally. He was told that achieving success in the affair would improve his status in the eyes of Israel and the Arab and Muslim worlds.

Erdoğan has faced domestic criticism for the crisis with Israel, which some claimed cost Turkey its prominent status in the Middle East.


Turkey Has Played Key Role in Arab Spring, Foreign Minister Says

In an exclusive interview with the Hurriyet Daily on his way to Turkey, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said Turkey's position in its region had strengthened remarkably. Westerwelle said Turkey had been playing a key role in the solution of the ongoing crisis in Syria. Moreover, it had displayed significant moves concerning the developments in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Libya, Tunisia and Egypt. The minister also said Turkey and Germany had similar interests in this region.


Tent Camp Restrictions Due to Syrian Spy Fears

Foreign aid organizations are not allowed to enter the tent camps in southeastern Hatay province where Syrians are staying. Officials said such restrictions stemmed from the Turkish intelligence and security authorities concern that "spies" might leak into the camps.


U.S. Senators to Erdogan: 'Turkey Can Convince Hamas'

Prime Minister Erdoğan's meeting with three U.S. senators might be a step toward a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian talks, as only Turkey can convince Hamas to join in peace talks with Israel, the senators told the prime minister over the weekend, according sources.

In response, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Senators John McCain, Joseph Lieberman and Lindsey Graham that if Hamas was "encouraged" to participate in Palestinian peace talks, then Turkey "would do its best" to convince the organization to sit at the negotiating table, according to sources.

The senators visited Erodğan on Friday to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Well-placed sources told the Hürriyet Daily News that the senators asked Erdoğan about the Israeli-Palestinian situation and he told them that peace would be nearly impossible without Hamas involved in the talks. They told Erdoğan that with its rising prestige on the Arab street, Turkey could perhaps be the only country able to bring Hamas to the table, according to the sources.

The sources spoke on condition of anonymity, but according to what the Hürriyet Daily News has learned, the Israeli-Palestinian issue came up during the visit of the U.S. senators. When Turkey's possible contribution to the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian talks was asked about, Erdoğan told the senators that it was practically impossible to have peace without Hamas sitting at the negotiation table.

The senators then told Erdoğan that Turkey because it is a rising prestige on the Arab street, they are perhaps the only actor that can convince Hamas to recognize the existence of Israel and to accept the result of peace negotiations. In answer to that, Erdoğan said that if Hamas was "encouraged" to have a place at the table, then Turkey could do its best to convince the organization to join the peace talks.

Erdoğan also told the senators he was planning to visit Egypt soon and said his visit could be extended to Palestine, implying the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip.

Senator McCain told journalists after the Friday meeting with Erdoğan that they discussed "Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, developments in Libya and Syria, as well as Turkish-U.S. relations."

Senator Graham was more open to say that he "hoped Turkey could play a role in a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute," adding that Erdoğan was "the most impressive spokesperson in the region."

The HDN learned from diplomatic sources that there was a plan to visit Egypt on July 21 with a contingency plan to drive to Gaza through the Rafah border gate, but Erdoğan himself had put a hold on that visit for now. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, on the other hand, flew to Egypt - on his way to Libya - on Saturday to hold talks there on the Israeli-Palestinian situation. Davutoğlu held separate talks with Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas and Hamas leader Khaled Masha, who paid a visit to Turkey after the June 12 elections.

The main reason for Erdoğan's postponement of the visit was the uncertainties over the flotilla crisis, in which Israeli soldiers killed nine Turks on board the Mavi Marmara ship carrying aid to Gaza under an Israeli blockade last year.

Erdoğan, according to sources, told the senators that Turkey's demands from Israel about an apology, compensation for the losses and lifting of the blockade on Gaza still remain unfulfilled. The Mavi Marmara, under the control of the Turkey-origin, religious-based humanitarian aid organization İHH, was excluded from a second flotilla this year, reportedly after indirect recommendations from Turkish government officials. That move decreased tensions a bit, and then Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sent a letter to Erdoğan, congratulating his victory in the June 12 elections.

According to one source, diplomats have been working like linguists to find a word that "would sound like an open apology in Turkish," but "not that so in Hebrew," in order to overcome the crisis and ensure Turkey's active contribution to bring Hamas to the peace table.


Turkish Lawmakers to Elect Head of Parliament

Newly elected lawmakers in the June 12 general elections were expected to elect their new parliament speaker on Monday. Cemil Cicek and Zelkif Kazdal, from the election-triumphant Justice and Development (AK) Party, and Tunca Toskay, from the opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), will be running for Parliament speaker.

A Funeral On a Day of Feast

Cemil Cicek, the Justice and Development (AK) Party's candidate for parliament speaker, used these words while expressing his concern over the parliamentary boycott displayed by the Republican People's Party (CHP) and the Peace and Democracy Party (BDP). Cicek said parties should first enter Parliament and start working the normal schedule in order to reach a consensus to solve the current problems. "We had an election like a feast. However, we are now having a funeral on such a festive day. I feel really sorry," Cicek said.

Tension in Turkish Politics Stems from Different Democratic Views, Opposition Leader Says

The leader of Turkey's main opposition party said that the tension in Turkish politics arose from the political actors' different views and moves concerning the democratic system of rights and freedoms.

In his statement to the Greek newspaper To Vima, Republican People's Party (CHP) Chairperson Kemal Kilicdaroglu commented on the developments in Turkey after the June 12 elections, the financial crisis in Greece and the Turkish-Greek relations.

"The tension we are experiencing in Turkish politics after the elections stem from different views and moves on democratic system and rights and freedoms," Kilicdaroglu told the Greek paper.

Commenting on Greece's financial problems, Kilicdaroglu said: "We follow the developments concerning the crisis in Greece with great sorrow."

Pointing to Turkish-Greek relations, the chairman noted that Turkey and Greece could find a way to sort out their differences.

Kilicdaroglu also said Turkish and Greek businessmen could take a remarkable step to activate the economic potential between their countries.


No More Bullet Sounds

Republican People's Party's (CHP) Deputy Chairman Gursel Tekin said the Kurdish issue was the biggest problem Turkey had to discuss at the moment. "We could not sleep unil the morning in southeastern Tunceli province due to the sound of helicopters and bullets. Whatever will be done to solve this problem should be done real fast," Tekin said.

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