Ankara is considering a possible visit by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to the Gaza Strip as part of his trip to Egypt next week, but the idea is facing tall political and security hurdles.

Erdoğan is scheduled to pay an official visit to Egypt Sept. 12-13, an official from the Prime Ministry told the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday, while remaining uncertain about the date Erdoğan would return to Turkey.

"It is still unclear if the prime minister will cross over to the Gaza Strip," the official said.

The Daily News has learned that a final decision was likely on Tuesday, following talks between Turkish officials and a senior Palestinian envoy in Ankara on Monday.

The prime minister could add "some other countries" to his program, the official noted without giving names. A visit to Libya, as part of Erdoğan's trip, was among the alternatives, another official told the Daily News.

Ankara is facing difficulties in making arrangements for Erdoğan's visit to Egypt to include a possible additional leg to Gaza, which has been under an Israeli blockade for years.

Erdoğan's visit to Gaza is unlikely due to two concerns, another diplomatic source told the Daily News.

"Erdoğan's entry to Gaza through the Rafah border crossing would put Egypt in a delicate position, since that would mean violating existing agreements between Israel and Egypt," the source said. Another pitfall, the source added, is ensuring the prime minister's security in Gaza, which is controlled by Hamas.

Asked about the issue, the Egyptian Embassy in Ankara said the ambassador would brief the media on Tuesday.

Israel warned on Monday that a visit by Erdoğan to Gaza would be a diplomatic mistake. The Jerusalem Post newspaper quoted Israeli officials as saying that such a visit would affect Turkey's relations with the U.S.

The move would also weaken Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, presumably because a trip to Hamas-controlled Gaza would challenge him as the legitimate representative of the Palestinians, the paper said.

Meanwhile, Nabil Shaath, special envoy of Palestinian Abbas, held talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu in Ankara on Monday. The two discussed Turkey's intention to seek an advisory opinion from the International Court of Justice on Israel's blockade of Gaza, a diplomat told the Daily News, adding that another major issue was a planned Palestinian bid to seek recognition at the United Nations.

Following Downgrade of Israeli Relations, Focus Turns to Defense Industry Cooperation

After the downgrading of relations between Turkey and Israel, attention has been placed on the defense industry, one of the most important cooperation areas between Turkey and Israel.

Israel, one of Turkey's most vital partners in the defense industry, has been enjoying an advantageous trade balance in this area, as Turkey has been purchasing advanced technology defense industry products from Israel. In turn, Israel has been buying military boots and uniforms from Turkey.

Recently, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu unveiled a series of decisions concerning Turkish-Israeli relations. The decisions included downgrading Turkish-Israeli diplomatic ties to the level of a second secretary, suspending all military agreements, including measures pertaining to the freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean, and demanding a review of the Israeli blockade over Gaza by the International Court of Justice.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos raided a humanitarian aid flotilla heading for Gaza, killing nine Turkish nationals, one of whom was a U.S. citizen. Turkey said after the attack that it expected Israel to make a formal apology, pay a certain compensation to the families of the victims and to end its blockade over Gaza.

The United Nations established an inquiry panel to examine the incident. The UN panel's long-awaited "Palmer Report" was handed over to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 2.

The report said Israel's interception of the vessels was "excessive and unreasonable," while the flotilla acted "recklessly" in attempting to breach the naval blockade. It also said the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza was imposed as a "legitimate security measure" to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea.

According to economic figures, the defense industry had become one of the most integral between Turkey and Israel after the two countries signed a defense industry cooperation agreement on August 28, 1996; Turkey has been working with an Israeli company to modernize Turkish F4 jets.

Additionally, Turkey's exports to Israel were around $2.082 billion in 2010, and $1.382 billion in the first seven months of 2011. Turkey imported goods worth $1.359 billion from Israel in 2010, and worth $1.180 billion in the first seven months of 2011.

Recent Israeli investments in Turkey are Ofer Group's purchasing shares of Turkish Oil Refineries Corp., or Tupras, and the canceled Galataport tender.

The biggest bank of Israel, Hapoalim Bank, purchased 57.5 percent shares of BankPozitif and invested it in the Turkish banking industry. It paid $100 million to C Faktoring for BankPozitif's shares.

In June 2006, the Israeli carpet company "Karmel" invested $9 million, and bought 51.1 percent of the Turkish Atlas Hali, a carpet company.

Turkish contracting companies have undertaken 104 projects in Israel so far, worth $580 million. The biggest Turkish investment in Israel is the electricity power plants Zorlu Holding will construct. The holding has undertaken four electricity power plant projects in Israel so far.

Turkish Foreign Minister Delivers Messages to Europe.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, referring to the deadly May 31, 2010 Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara ship, said it was an issue not only between Turkey and Israel but also between Israel and the international community.

Davutoğlu said nobody should approach the countries experiencing an Arab Spring with Crusader or colonial mentality, considering that such a mentality could shift the transformation axis.

Davutoğlu said Israel was pursuing a policy that did not give any chance to peace. The paper also quoted the foreign minister as saying that sectarian conflict was the biggest threat before transformation in Libya and Syria.

Turks, Israelis Face Tough Time at Respective Airports

The Israeli foreign ministry said 40 Israeli passengers were held for questioning upon arrival in Istanbul on Sunday as a group of Turkish tourists claimed they were strip searched before departing from Tel Aviv the same day.

The incidents come as tensions between the former allies reached new heights over the refusal of an Israel apology over a deadly May 31, 2010 raid on an aid flotilla bound for Gaza which ended in the deaths of nine Turkish citizens.

Israelis Questioned

The Israeli foreign ministry said it had received an "unusual" complaint from one of the passengers involved, saying the Israeli passengers on the Turkish Airlines flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul had been singled out for questioning.

"It was a Turkish Airlines flight that landed in Istanbul, about 40 passengers were detained," Deputy Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ilana Stein told the AFP.

"They were taken to separate rooms to be questioned. Their passports were taken. After about an hour and a half of waiting, they were questioned one by one and, after that they got their passports back, they were free to go."

Turks 'Forced to Strip'

Meanwhile, Turkish passengers said they were separated from travelers from other countries as they headed back to Turkey on Sunday and taken into rooms for detailed body searches at Ben Gurion airport, near Tel Aviv.

"They immediately told the group from Bucharest to pass, but they took us into changing rooms. [We] took off our clothes and shoes. [They] searched our bodies with their hands and then with a detector," said passenger Arif Çınar at Atatürk Airport in Istanbul. "They searched our bodies for explosives for several times," Çınar said.

Another passenger, Mustafa Teke said he was asked to take off his clothes and remain naked for a body search and, when he refused, officials forced him.

The leader of the tour group, Eyüp Ensar Uğur said their plane was delayed due to those security searches. "They even examined my paper napkin three times," he said.

Foreign travelers passing through Israel's Ben Gurion airport routinely face lengthy questioning and invasive searches by the Israeli security forces, prompting a steady stream of complaints.

Israel claims the searches are routine and a necessary procedure to ensure security.

Ankara last week expelled Israel's ambassador and suspended all military agreements in retaliation for a 2010 deadly raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla.

Key Israelis Warn of High Cost in Turkey Rift

Escalating tensions with once-ally Turkey, coupled with a growing social protest movement on the domestic front, has started to display signs of a widening rift within the Israeli establishment.

Key figures, including the highly influential head of the Israeli Central Bank, have started reminding officials of the material cost of the administration's obstinacy toward Turkey, warning of huge losses in trade at a time when Israel is in dire need of such income.

"Turkey will be a big market in this region. It will be a major exporter," the Anatolia news agency quoted Stanley Fischer, governor of the Bank of Israel, saying at a conference held in Tel Aviv on Monday. "The consequence of not having trade relations with Turkey will be expensive for us, because [Turkey] is the most important of the economies in the wider region, including the Gulf countries."

Diplomatic ties between Turkey and Israel have been on a downward spiral for the past few years, but until today, the sphere of commerce did not feel repercussions. The bilateral trade volume hit $3.1 billion in 2010, jumping by 26 percent from $2.5 billion in 2009, even after Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's January 2009 outburst against Israeli President Shimon Peres in Davos, Switzerland. Israel's exports to Turkey accounted for around $1.35 billion of this figure, making Turkey the sixth most important trade partner for Tel Aviv.

Fischer's comments will surely resonate throughout the Israeli political spectrum, as he is among the rare public figures who has not lost credibility despite the economic and political difficulties that Israel has been facing for some time. Acting ahead of the curve during the 2008 global financial crisis, Fischer is credited with helping Israel become one of the few economies in the world that did not contract. The Israeli economy grew by 4 percent in 2008, 0.2 percent in 2009 and 3.4 percent in 2010, even as other economies in the region, including Turkey, faced massive contractions. In his bid earlier this year to lead the International Monetary Fund, Fischer even received support from the Palestinian administration.

Top Businessmen Lament Lost Opportunities

The central banker, ranked among the world's brightest economists, was not alone in voicing concerns. Menashe Carmon, the chairman of the Tel Aviv-based Israel-Turkey Business Council, joined him as he spoke to the Hürriyet Daily News on Monday. "Our desire is that there would be no drastic steps taken by either side," said Carmon. "A calm and more logical atmosphere is needed for business ties to remain [strong]." He added that the level that bilateral trade has reached is "too valuable to lose" for either country.

"The crisis with Ankara could cause heavy damage to our industry," said Uriel Lynn, head of the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce, according to Yedioth Ahronoth. "If the Turkish authorities decide to sever their trade relations with Israel, we will lose an excellent and important trade partner," the newspaper quoted Lynn as saying.

Rona Yırcalı, board chairman of Turkey's Foreign Economic Relations Board, agreed that after Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's statement on Friday, this time, the situation is more severe. "This time the situation is really serious," Yırcalı said. "Things are getting worse and we will have to wait and see the results in business."

Turkey's imports from Israel jumped by nearly 40 percent in the first half of 2011, from $648 million to $950 million. Its exports to Israel rose by 16 percent in the same period, from $907 million to $1.05 billion. k HDN

Iran Criticizes NATO's Turkey Radar Plan

A senior Iranian diplomat criticized neighboring Turkey on Monday for agreeing to host an early warning radar as part of NATO's missile defense system for Europe.

"We believe that any kind of presence around our borders by countries from outside the region will not improve security in the region but will actually do the opposite," Deputy Foreign Minister for Consular Affairs Hassan Ghashghavi told the official IRNA News Agency.

"Iran and Turkey are two friendly neighboring nations and have the ability to fully preserve their own security without any foreign intervention," he added.

The Turkish foreign ministry announced on Friday that technical negotiations on the deployment of the radar had "reached a final stage," a move swiftly welcomed by Washington.

"The hope is to have it deployed by the end of this year," Pentagon Spokesman Colonel Dave Lapan told reporters.

Leaders of the 28-member NATO alliance gave its backing last year for the Europe-wide ballistic missile shield, which U.S. officials say is aimed at thwarting missile threats from Iran.

Iranian criticism of Turkey is rare. Tehran has made good relations with Ankara a priority as it has boosted trade ties in the face of EU and U.S. embargos and looked to its NATO neighbor to mediate in its standoff with the West over its controversial nuclear program.

Economic Decisions Against Israel Not Taken, Economy Minister Says

Turkish Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan said Monday that no economic decision has been taken against Israel and that "normal channels and normal works continued."

Speaking to reporters while receiving Rainhardt Freiherr Von Leoprechtin, the chairman of the Turkish-German Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and an accompanying delegation in Ankara, Caglayan said that trade with Israel continued.

"We must note that trade conducted with Palestine takes place via Israel. We have to take into consideration this fact while evaluating our commercial relations with Israel," Caglayan said. "It is totally unacceptable to see nine innocent people getting killed as it happened on May 31, 2010 by Israeli forces. Turkey demands an apology from Israel for the killing of these innocent people."

Touching on the developments in Libya, Caglayan said that international institutions would make a damage assessment in Libya concerning Turkish businesses and their projects.

"I will pay a visit to Libya soon," Caglayan also said.

Netanyahu Still Refuses Apology, But Expresses Regret Over Loss of Life

Israel's prime minister on Sunday defiantly refused to apologize to Turkey for his military's deadly raid last year on a Turkish-led flotilla bent on breaking the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip.

In his first public remarks since Turkey expelled the Israeli ambassador over the affair on Friday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed Israel's regret for the loss of lives and said he hoped to mend frayed ties with Turkey -- a country that was once Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world.

Ankara had wanted Israel to apologize for the deaths and lift the blockade on Gaza, a Palestinian territory run by Hamas militants with a long history of deadly violence against Israel.

But Netanyahu said Israel, in trying to keep arms from reaching Gaza, had nothing to apologize for.

"We don't have to apologize for acting to defend our civilians, our children and our communities," Netanyahu told government ministers and journalists at the beginning of the weekly Cabinet session.

But he tempered those tough words by telling Turkey that "Israel expresses regret at the loss of life."

"I hope we will find a way to overcome the dispute with Turkey," Netanyahu said. "Israel never wanted ties with Turkey to deteriorate, and Israel does not now seek a deterioration of ties."

The expulsion of the Israeli envoy from Turkey followed the leaking of a UN report that defended the Israeli blockade of Gaza and acknowledged that violent activists on board the blockade-busting Mavi Marmara ship had attacked the raiding naval commandos.

But it also accused Israel of using disproportionate force against the activists and called their deaths "unreasonable."

Palestine Thanks Turkey for Support For its People

The Palestinian ambassador in Ankara thanked Turkey for its support of the Palestinian people.

Ambassador Nabil Maarouf released a written statement on Sunday and said that he would like to thank the Turkish people and government for supporting Palestinian people and their cause in all political and economic platforms on behalf of the Palestinian president, government and people.

Maarouf said that they were grateful to Turkey for its policy and stance to end cruelty against Palestinian people and embargo imposed on Gaza. He also said that they rejected the UN report about last year's deadly Israeli attack against a humanitarian aid ship, adding that the report was against the international law.

On May 31, 2010, Israeli commandos raided a humanitarian aid flotilla heading for Gaza, killing nine Turkish nationals, one of whom was a U.S. citizen.

Turkey said after the attack that it expected Israel to make a formal apology, pay compensation to the families of the victims and to end its blockade over Gaza.

The United Nations established an inquiry panel to examine the incident. The UN panel's long-awaited "Palmer Report" was handed over to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on September 2.

The report said Israel's interception of the vessels was "excessive and unreasonable," while the flotilla acted "recklessly" in attempting to breach the naval blockade. It also said the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza was imposed as a "legitimate security measure" to prevent weapons from entering Gaza by sea.

Meanwhile, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu unveiled a series of decisions concerning Turkish-Israeli relations.

The measures included downgrading Turkish-Israeli diplomatic ties to the level of a second secretary, suspension of military agreements, measures pertaining to freedom of navigation in the Eastern Mediterranean and demanding a review of the Israeli blockade over Gaza by the International Court of Justice.

Court Orders of General Staff Intel Chief

The head of the General Staff's intelligence unit has become the latest high-ranking officer arrested in an ongoing Internet propaganda case, though he said he was innocent of all charges.

Lt. Gen. İsmail Hakkı Pekin pleaded not guilty after being arrested by the court.

"I have no stains on the uniform I have worn with pride for 40 years," he said. "I appear before you for a crime I have not committed. I am in agony over this humiliating situation."

The lawyer for another general previously arrested in the same "Internet Memorandum" case meanwhile requested that former Chief of General Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ be subpoenaed as part of the investigation.

Rejecting the allegations against him, Pekin said he was asked to put his initials on the document for coordination purposes and did so after seeing the signatures of other officers there.

The ongoing case refers to an alleged document from the General Staff that ordered the establishment of 42 Internet sites to distribute propaganda against the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, as well as Greeks and Armenians.

Pekin said he was not responsible for the content of the Web sites prepared based on the memorandum.

"The Internet Memorandum is a memorandum that approves the launching of four new sites," he said. "I have no connection with those Internet sites, which have been active for 10 years," he said.

The general insisted that he put his initials on the Internet memorandum with the intention of fighting organizations and Web sites that publish posts against the Turkish Republic. Pekin also said the sources of 85 percent of the posts on the websites were clear and there was no violation of relevant laws.

In a parallel development, the lawyer for Gen. Mehmet Eröz, who is also among the suspects in the Internet Memorandum case, requested that the former top general appear in court and be heard as a witness in the case. In a written statement, lawyer İlkay Sezer said they had requested that Gen. Başbuğ be subpoenaed and appear at the next hearing Sept. 12. If this request is accepted by the court, the statement said, the incident that is on trial and the allegations would be better understood.

Demirtas Re-Elcted BDP's Chairman

Selahattin Demirtas was re-elected the chairman of Peace & Democracy Party, or BDP, on Sunday.

In the second regular congress meeting of BDP, 629 of 1,193 delegates cast votes, and Demirtas was elected the chairman of the party again by gaining 627 votes.

Gultan Kisanak was elected the co-chair of the party.

Luxembourg's Premier to Visit Turkey

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker will pay a visit to Turkey on September 8 and 9. The Turkish Prime Ministry press center said on Tuesday that Juncker would visit Turkey upon an invitation by Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Luxembourg's Minister of National Education and Professional Training Mady Delvaux-Stehres and several high-level officials would accompany Juncker during his visit, which is important as it will be the first visit in prime ministerial level from Luxembourg to Turkey after eight years.

Relations between the two countries, the EU, Cyprus issue, as well as regional and international matters will be high on the agenda of the meetings.

Global economic crisis and recent economic developments will also be discussed during the meetings as Juncker is also the President of Eurogroup, a meeting of the finance ministers of the eurozone.

Judiciary Body Criticizes Government in International Meeting

The International Association of Judges, or IAJ, will be staging its 54th General Assembly in Istanbul for the first time on Monday. It will be hosted by the Judges and Prosecutors Association, or YARSAV. Some 350 judges and prosecutors from 74 countries, as well as the United Nations special rapporteur, are expected to attend the meeting.

YARSAV prepared a special report for the meeting, including an assessment of the performance of the Turkish judiciary over the past year. YARSAV's report criticized the dismissal of the judges in charge of the Deniz Feneri charity fraud investigation.

"By utilizing the ministry's capacities, members consisting of bureaucrats from the Justice Ministry have been appointed to the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK. The legislative branch has not kept its hands off of the judiciary. To the contrary, it has attained the most influential position while undemocratic and repressive measures have been placed within a legal framework through amendments to the constitution. The new HSYK took office on Oct. 25, 2010, and the posts of some 3,049 judges and prosecutors, representing a third of active judges, have been reshuffled in a matter of some eight months. HSYK's candidate members and the founding members of YARSAV and the Democratic Judiciary have been appointed to their new posts against their will. Judges and prosecutors classified as dissidents have been intimidated," YARSAV's report said.

The report also criticized the lack of representation of women in the choices of members for the Council of State and the Supreme Court of Appeals.

"Only five of the 160 members selected for the Supreme Court of Appeals and one of the 51 members selected for the Council of State were female judges. The previous 34 to 35 percent rate of female judges has come down to about 2 percent, and a male-centered choice has been implemented. The fact that the selected female candidates were the spouses of bureaucrats from the Justice Ministry or the HSYK's reserve members also confirms this suspicion," said the report.

The report said the number of specially authorized courts, where the right to a fair trial is frequently violated, had increased, and that judges and prosecutors who the public thought were close to the government were given preference.

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