Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will begin a four-day trip to North Africa on Monday amid Turkey's game of diplomatic hardball with Israel that has made the Turkish leader immensely popular across the Arab world.

The visits to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, countries all affected by the Arab Spring, between Monday and Thursday are expected to enable Erdoğan to further cast himself as one of the Muslim world's leading political figures through speeches about Turkey's foreign policy vision for the region, as well as pointed criticism of Israel. Erdoğan's trip begins with a visit to Egypt, where a state of high alert was declared Saturday in Cairo after protesters stormed the building housing Israel's embassy and clashed with police, prompting a mass evacuation of the ambassador and other staff.

The prime minister is planning to harshly criticize Israel when he addresses Arab League foreign ministers and might possibly make similar comments when he delivers a speech in iconic Tahrir Square, ground zero for Egypt's revolutionaries. Around 500,000 people in Cairo are currently "cursing Israel with their acts," Erdoğan said on Saturday. Behind such acts lies a spirit and an awakening, he said. "People in the region are marching toward democracy and freedom from autocratic systems."

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News during a press conference in Istanbul on Sunday that Erdoğan would not visit Gaza. Erdoğan will also meet the head of Egypt's ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and representatives of the country's popular revolt that that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. A group of Egyptian revolutionaries will also greet the premier at his arrival in Cairo. Erdoğan is further expected to give a speech Monday at Cairo University, where he will outline Turkey's foreign policy vision for the region.

Erdoğan will also seek closer economic and military ties with the new rulers of Egypt. During his Egyptian visit, the Turkish leader is also expected to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss Palestine's bid to be recognized as a state by the UN. Erdoğan will continue his tour with a trip to Tunisia on Tuesday, before traveling to Libya the next day – becoming the first head of government to visit Libya since rebels fighting to end Col. Moammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule entered Tripoli. Erdoğan is expected to meet Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council.

"Israel has not yet fully understood the change in the region and has condemned itself to complete isolation," Davutoğlu said, referring to the Egyptian protesters' attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday, adding that the demonstrations were not the result of Turkey's recent actions toward Israel. "[Israel] despises and plays with the people's honor in this region," Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey would continue to highlight Israel's unlawful acts in all international platforms. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office said late Friday that Israeli policy "was and remains the prevention of deterioration in our ties with Turkey."

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel was not interested in a conflict with Turkey but was also not ready "to wave a white flag" before Ankara, the Jerusalem Post reported late Friday.

Israel will develop and defend gas platforms recently discovered in its waters, Energy Minister Uzi Landau said on Sunday.

"Israel can support and secure the rigs that we are going to have in the Mediterranean," Landau said, Reuters reported Sunday.

Palestine Preparing for Possible Erdogan Visit

The head of the Palestinian administration in Gaza, Ismail Haniyeh of Hamas, said that they were making preparations for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's possible visit to Gaza and with the visit, the people of Palestine will have a chance to show how much they love Turkey.

"We are on the side of Turkey vis-a-vis the Palmer report. According to information leaked, this is a terrible report," Haniyeh said.

In an exclusive interview with the AA in Gaza, Haniyeh said that "with efforts made in the region, Turkey tried to show that the superior power in the region are Arabs and the Islamic world."

"As the people of Palestine, we support every step Ankara takes to end the embargo on Gaza," Haniyeh said.

Turkey's downgrading of diplomatic relations and suspending all military relations with Israel was a great support to the Palestinian people, Haniyeh said.

Haniyeh answered questions on Turkish-Israeli relations, the Arab Spring, Israel's embargo, Erdoğan 's possible visit to Gaza and the developments in Syria. The interview lasted 40 minutes, despite Haniyeh saying he could only give 20 minutes for the interview.

Question: "Do the Arab and Islamic world extend adequate support to Turkey's struggle for the Palestinian issue?"

Haniyeh: "We thank Turkey and its people for their interest in the Palestinian issue. I would like to, at the same time, salute the martyrs of the Mavi Marmara aid ship. These nine brothers became martyrs while trying to end the embargo on Gaza. Turkey expresses that the policy implemented by Israel is one of occupation.With its efforts, Turkey is trying to show that the superior power in the region are Arabs and Islamic world. As the Palestinian and Gazan people, we support each step Turkey takes to end the Israeli embargo. We support Turkey's efforts in trying to end the Israeli occupation of Palestinian people, including Jerusalem. We respect Turkey's decision to downgrade diplomatic relations and suspend all military relations with Israel. Such a situation, I believe, opened a new page in Turkish-Israeli relations. Turkey's actions were a great support to the Palestinian cause and people."

Question: "What about the agreement between Al-Fatah and Hamas? When will the administrations in Ramallah and Gaza become a single body?"

Haniyeh: "The division among the Palestinians is an extraordinary situation. The people of Palestine are one, Palestinian territory is one. Despite political and deep disagreements, we have signed the Egypt document to end the division among ourselves. As Hamas, we did everything we can in order to turn Palestine's efforts into peace. I believe that our brothers with Al-Fatah in Ramallah cannot do what they have to do perhaps due to internal or external pressures. We have left the division behind. We have opened a new page in relations among the Palestinians. Peace now prevails among the Palestinians. However, in order to put the peace into practice, we need bilateral, careful and loyal implementation."

Question: "If there is no compromise and solidarity among the Palestinians, wouldn't Turkey's efforts be wasted?"

Haniyeh: "I do not think so. The President and Prime Minister of the Republic of Turkey are making serious efforts to activate Palestinian peace. Whenever Turkish leaders meet with Hamas or Al-Fatah officials such issues get discussed. Turkey has always expressed its intention to implement peace among the Palestinians. As Hamas, we have always respected such a Turkish stance and have been on the side of Palestinian peace. Turkey's efforts and the agreement signed in Egypt will not be wasted."

Question: "Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will pay a visit to Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. Erdogan indicated that he wants to go to Gaza from Egypt. What do you think about Erdoğan 's possible trip to Gaza?"

Haniyeh: "Every time I have spoken with Erdoğan, I have invited him to Palestine and Gaza on behalf of the Palestinian people and the government. We have heard that Erdoğan wishes to visit Gaza. We are making preparations for Erdoğan 's visit. A possible visit by Erdoğan would be viewed by the Palestinian people as an historic one. I consider Erdogan's visit as an effort to reunite Turkey with the Palestinian cause and Jerusalem. We continue our preparations assuming that Erdoğan would indeed visit us. Our council of ministers have established a high committee for the necessary preparations to be made for Erdoğan 's visit to Gaza. Such a visit will certainly be an historic one. The people of Palestine will have a chance to show how much they love Turkey. The people of Palestine will show how much interested they are in Turkey's new role in Gaza. We all hope that the visit takes place. We have communicated with the Turkish Prime Ministry on this issue. However, we have not yet received a definite answer from Ankara. I would like to use this interview to invite Premier Erdoğan to Gaza again. This visit would be a crucial step to end the brutal embargo on Gaza. This visit will give the Palestinians a chance to show how much they love the people and government of Turkey."

Question: "What could you say about Turkey's role in establishing Palestinian unity?"

Haniyeh: "First of all, Turkey will have a great role in the establishment of a national coalition government, recognition of the state and introducing this entity to the world. Secondly, Turkey will have a role in ending the embargo on Gaza. Thirdly, Turkey will play a role in the restoration of Gaza. Fourthly, Turkey will play a role in extending support to the Palestinians who are trying to end Israeli attempts to widen new settlement areas in the West Bank and Jerusalem. Turkey's crucial role existed before the Palestinian peace and it will continue after the unification. We have high hopes about Turkey's roles in the future."

Question: "As Hamas and Al-Fatah, have you determined a joint attitude regarding negotiations with Israel?"

Haniyeh: "Hamas thinks that the occupation forces take benefit out of the negotiations. These occupation forces have utilized the negotiations for arresting individuals, opening new areas for settlements and placing Jerusalem under an embargo. For such reasons, the negotiations were never successful. At the end of the negotiations, the people of Palestine could not receive basic rights and establish their own state. As such, we as Hamas do not support the negotiations. We believe that the negotiations would be to the benefit of Israel. Every time we meet Al-Fatah officials, we tell them that we need to end negotiations with Israel. We have always said that a new strategy and policy must be implemented based on the rights of the Palestinians. We have always defended the notion that the negotiations must take place within an Arabic and Islamic dimension. We have stressed that all negotiations should not have to be made under the auspices of the United States. All Palestinian negotiators admit one thing: 18 years of negotiations have failed with no result."

Question: "Israel accuses you of rocket attacks on civilians. Such rocket attacks result in greater attacks by Israel. Can the administration in Gaza control rocket attacks on Israel?"

Haniyeh: "The Palestinian people are always in a position to defend themselves. Palestinian resistance is intended as a defense only. Whether it is Gaza or any other Palestinian territory, we have always been in a position to defend ourselves. Such a resistance is a legitimate right of the Palestinian people. We believe that defending yourself is a universal right. Since the Palestinian people are under an occupation, their resistance is a legal right. Moreover, the rockets and weapons used by the Palestinian people are nothing when you consider those used by the Israeli armed forces. Israel has always targeted civilians with its weapons and warplanes. For instance, in the most recent battle, 1,500 Palestinians were martyred, 5,000 injured and 20,000 left homeless. Israel's policy has always been to turn the 'victim into hangman and hangman into victim'. Israeli planes always target civilians. For example, we had 24 martyrs 15 days ago and two martyrs in the last 48 hours. Israel has the wish to kill deliberately. Israel uses these attacks in order to stay far away from the social and domestic problems of its people. If you ask me whether or not we can control the situation, my answer would be 'yes'. As all Palestinian political parties and the government, we are in control of the situation. At the same time, we are a society that would not stay silent in the face of Israeli attacks."

Question: "The latest UN report argues that the blockade on Gaza is legitimate. What do you think about this report?"

Haniyeh: "Based on the information leaked, this report is terrible. The report has legitimized massacring Palestinians and the piracy staged on the Mavi Marmara aid ship. As the Palestinian people and their government, we do not accept the report and support Turkey's position in not accepting the report. The United Nations is in a position to protect us as a people under occupation. What is demanded from the UN is to extend assistance to the Palestinians who are under occupation. The UN has a duty to bring certain Israeli generals to court for war crimes. An embargo is a crime of war. Attacking a ship in front of the whole world is a crime of war. Such a report has legitimized the Israeli attack and will legitimize future attacks as well. We share the same notion with Turkey in not accepting this report. We support any and all Turkish decisions to protect Turkish blood."

Question: "The Hamas administration in Gaza is accused of not letting opposition live. Can the situation in Gaza be compared to the one in Syria?"

Haniyeh: "Such an accusation is not right. I do not accept this accusation. What kind of an opposition are we talking about? Hamas is an administrative body. From a political perspective, Hamas is right at the heart and center of the opposition. Secondly, there are Palestinian parties in Gaza. They exist legally, have offices, have freedom of movement and speak with the administration. I can say that there is complete freedom when it comes to political parties in Gaza. Though we may have problems with Al-Fatah, our brothers from Al-Fatah live here. We are only against incidents that would negatively affect local security. The situation here cannot be compared to the one in Syria. As Palestine, we are in a stage of liberation and not state. We talk about people here who are trying to save themselves from occupation. As an administration, we came to power according to election results. You can travel in the whole of Gaza, talk with political leaders and witness that there is freedom in Gaza."

Question: "Do you think the Arab Spring helps the Palestinian issue? For example, Egypt opened the Refah border crossing. Did this help the life in Gaza?"

Haniyeh: "It would be the people who would benefit from the Arab Spring. Aside from this reality, the Palestinian cause would benefit from the Arab Spring. We wholeheartedly accept the changes taking place. The region's address in the future would be the peoples themselves. If the people are permitted, they will always be on the side of the Palestinian cause. The people of Egypt have never been on the side of the embargo implemented on Gaza. The previous regime (in Egypt) has always supported the embargo. The people of Egypt have never supported the idea of closing the Refah border crossing. We witnessed this at Tahrir Square. The fact that the Israeli flag at the Israeli Embassy in Cairo was brought down by an Egyptian individual is a proof of such a situation. The future of change in the region will benefit the Palestinian cause."

Question: "What are the impact of the incidents taking place in Syria on you?"

Haniyeh: "The Syrian government and people have always been on the side of the Palestinians. We cannot deny the fact that Syria has always taken a role to end the embargo on Gaza. We cannot turn our back on any one who has supported the Palestinian people and the Palestinian cause. Surely, the Arab people of Syria have certain rights. We have always supported change whether it is in Syria or elsewhere. We are deeply saddened by the bloodshed in Syria. Any power cannot suppress the people itself. We always wish for a strong Syria that would continue to extend support to the Palestinian people."

Question: "Do you have any message to the Turkish people?"

Haniyeh: "We believe that Israel fell into a tough situation after losing a partner of 50 years. Personally, I do not believe that Israel has lost Turkey. The Turkish people and the Turkish government are making history. Turkey and Egypt will make history together with Muslim and Arab countries. May God protect the people of Turkey and their leaders. We are always with the Turkish people and government by noting how much importance they attach to Jerusalem, and in efforts to protect their crucial role and strategy in the region."

Turkish Exporter's Assembly to Join Erdogan in Egypt

Chairman of the Turkish Exporters Assembly, or TIM, Mehmet Buyukeksi, said Sunday that they will join Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in his visit to Egypt on Monday.

Buyukeksi said they will take two planes full of Turkish businesspeople to Egypt.

"We wish to witness the new term in Egypt and aim to strengthen the economic relations between our two countries," Buyukeksi said.

Turkish-Egyptian trade volume was $3.1 billion in 2010.

Parliament Suspends Friendship with Israel

Mounting tensions between Israel and Turkey have begun taking their toll on inter-parliamentary bridges of friendship.

Members of Parliament's Israel Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group, which was presided over by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, deputy Nursuna Memecan during the last legislative term, resigned en masse following Israel's Gaza offensive, followed soon thereafter by the abolition of the commission in its entirety.

The name of the Israeli friendship group has also been removed from Parliament's registries and its Web site, which contains the lists of friendship groups with 105 different countries.

What is to Follow this Term?

As the legislative body downgrades relations with Israel to the second-secretary level and suspends many ties with the Jewish state, especially military agreements, will Parliament continue the friendship? Will government and opposition deputies come together to establish the Parliament's Israel Friendship Group? The answer to all these questions is a resounding no.

Parliament is leaning toward putting its relations with Israel in the deep freezer, just as the government is considering. The suspension of official contacts and the cancelation of mutual visits are all on the agenda.

The Israel Friendship Group will not be established in the Parliament's 24th term unless détente begins to ensue between the two countries by Oct. 1, when Parliament is set to reconvene. Aside from the ruling AKP, neither the main opposition CHP nor the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, are inclined to send members to the Israel friendship group. The government, in fact, immediately wrote Israel off, even though it had already rolled into action to establish friendship groups with other countries' parliaments quite some time ago.

It seems impossible that Parliament would be able take any initiatives to develop friendship ties with Israel in the coming term before relations between the government and Tel Aviv begin to improve first.

Can the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, which still has not taken the parliamentary oath and therefore reserves no right to send members to commissions, assign their deputies to the friendship group if it manages to overcome this hurdle? Strong signals indicate they could, but it must also be stressed that this would not suffice for the BDP to be able to found an Israel Parliament friendship group and establish contact with Tel Aviv all by themselves.

Davutoglu Delivers Strong Message to Israel: Don't Test Us

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu reacted harshly to claims that Israel may wish to cooperate with the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in response to steps Turkey might take in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.

Speaking in Istanbul on Sunday during a joint press conference with his Brazilian counterpart Antonia de Aguiar Patriota, Davutoğlu said any country that supports terror will "surely receive a response."

"No one can debilitate Turkey. No one should put Turkey's strength to the test," Davutoğlu said, adding that Israel has to act responsibly against terrorism.

On Friday, the Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported that Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman had planned meetings with PKK leaders in Europe to find ways to cooperate with them "in every possible area." Israeli officials swiftly denied the existence of such a plan.

According to Turkish sources speaking to the Hürriyet Daily News, a meeting took place between an aide of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and an advisor to Turkish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioğlu, during which the Israeli official refuted allegations about cooperation with the PKK. The incident also showed that despite the tension, diplomatic relations remain open.

Despite the denial, the claims that made it to newspaper headlines on Saturday "caused indignation in Turkey," Davutoğlu said. "No country can blackmail Turkey."

"Today is Sept. 11 and on such a day, nobody can differentiate between terrorist organizations," he said. "We hope Israel will emphasize its denial with actions."

Regarding the other side of the alleged link, Davutoğlu said the PKK has been going through a period of "tool-ization" – meaning that it has become a tool for those who wish to weaken Turkey.

Ankara Wants Israel to Back Up Denial of PKK Cooperation Plans

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman's denial of a report suggesting that he offered to hold meetings with leaders of the terrorist Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, in retaliation against Turkey's sanctions on Israel was not sufficient to calm Ankara's anger, which deemed the reported plan blackmail against Turkey.

"Liebermann is usually not an addressee in the international arena so I had refrained from commenting on his words before," Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu said Sunday. "But today is Sept. 11, and the alleged words come at a time when a battle against terrorism is being fought on a global scale. One cannot make distinctions between terrorist organizations. We are hoping that Israel will also back up its denial of the alleged plans [to support the PKK] through its actions.

However, the situations display how the PKK has come to be a tool for those who want to damage Turkey, as it was the case before in history Davutoğlu said at a joint press conference with visiting Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota.

"We have the strength to counter terrorism as we push on with our efforts for more democracy at the same time; nobody has the guts to blackmail us in this respect. Support extended to the PKK by Israel or any other country whoever they may be will be reciprocated equally," Davutoğlu added.

The Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Friday that the hawkish Israeli foreign minister had been planning to meet with PKK leaders in Europe to discuss cooperation with the terrorist group in every possible way. Lieberman has been planning a series of measures to retaliate against Turkey over an apology row, including providing military aid to the outlawed PKK, the daily said.

A statement delivered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's office on Friday did not deny or confirm the plan, yet called for restraint with regards to statements concerning Turkey, Israeli daily Haaretz reported. "Our policy was and remains to prevent a breakdown of relations with Turkey and easing the tensions between the countries," Haaretz quoted the statement.

In an interview with Israeli Channel 2 TV late on Saturday, Lieberman said that Israel's actions have been, and will continue to be, guided by international law. In response to a question, he said no issue such as helping the PKK was discussed at a meeting of the Foreign Ministry, which was the basis of the Yedioth Ahronoth report, the Anatolia news agency reported.

Lieberman also said that he hoped normalization with Turkey could be regained and that he hopes Turkey will also see such normalization as being in Ankara's best interests. Israel is not interested in a conflict with Turkey, but is also not ready "to wave a white flag" before Ankara, he added.

Earlier on Saturday, while delivering a speech at the opening of a cultural festival, Turkey's Parliament Speaker Cemil Çiçek harshly criticized Lieberman's reported plans, which he called "blackmail," without referring to Lieberman directly.

"It's very troubling that someone with the rank of minister should make such irresponsible remarks," Çiçek said. "The things with which Turkey has been struggling is not only ethnic and separatist terror. With these statements, it is becoming clear who is and will be behind these [terrorists]. We know that these irresponsible mentalities have a role in shedding the blood of martyrs and in the flowing of tears," he said.

"Nobody should use what we already know to blackmail the Turkish Republic because they will have to suffer more one day [for such blackmailing]," he added.

Turkey Conveyed Disapproval of Palmer Report Before Leak

It has emerged that Turkey ruled "null and void" a UN report on last year's Mavi Marmara flotilla raid, which crippled Israeli-Turkish diplomacy, months before the report leaked to the media and caused an irrevocable strain in ties early September.

Özdem Sanberk, the Turkish representative to the UN panel that compiled the so-called Palmer Report on the flotilla raid, notified the UN on July 1 that Ankara would not be approving the drafted version.

"The report is unacceptable to Turkey as it is and considered null and void," Sanberk wrote in a letter he sent to the panel long before its content hit the media in early September. Sanberk had also vocalized Turkey's disapproval of the report at a final April meeting of the UN panel, but his suggestions did not change the outcome.

In the aftermath of the leak, Sanberk received criticism from lawmakers from oppositional parties, as well as the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, for not being able to change the controversial bits in the report.

Volkan Bozkır of the AKP suggested that the Turkish representative "could have prevented the report from going out the way it did, if he had left his post."

Sanberk, however, conveyed to the panel upon receiving a draft version in April that the report established the facts accurately but needed a different evaluation in the concluding chapter. Sanberk warned the panel that "a leak in the report would bring an end to Turkey-Israel relations." The report eventually leaked to the U.S. media, allegedly through the Israeli administration, which had pushed for delays in the report's release to gain time for easier rapprochement with Turkey.

In the letter Sanberk sent to the panel, he reiterated Turkish demands for apology and compensation before normalization of relations could take place between the countries. Turkey had withdrawn its ambassador from Israel in the aftermath of the Mavi Marmara raid last year, and imposed sanctions on Israel on Sept. 2, immediately after the leak, to withdraw theirs and drop diplomatic relations to the level of the second secretary.

The UN panel chaired by the former New Zealand Prime Minister Geoffrey Palmer was formed to shed light to the Israeli raid of a Gaza-bound humanitarian aid ship that ended in the killing of nine Turkish peace activists aboard Mavi Marmara on May 31, 2010. Although the report found Israeli intervention "excessive and unreasonable," it was subject to criticism from Turkey for its justification of Gaza blockade and a lack of pressure on Israel to comply with Turkish demands for normalization.

Turkey Tells Iraq to Increase Coordination

Turkey has urged its southern neighbor to increase its consultations and coordination against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, underlining that it will do whatever necessary to protect its citizens in the fight against terror.

"I mentioned to the Iraqi side about the need to deepen our cooperation in the fight against terrorism and about Turkey's right to self defense," Feridun Sinirlioğlu, undersecretary of the Foreign Ministry, told reporters in Baghdad on Saturday after his talks with Iraqi Foreign Minister Hosyhar Zabari and Iraqi Parliament Speaker Usame al-Nuceyfi.

Sinirlioğlu met with Iraqi President Jalal Talabani in Baghdad and Massoud Barzani, head of the Regional Kurdistan Administration on Sunday in Arbil in the northern Iraq.

Sinirlioğlu's visit to Iraq followed a drastic change in the country's anti-PKK strategy, which includes more aerial incursions into the PKK camps located in the Kandil Mountains in the northern Iraq. There are also claims that Turkey was preparing for a cross-border ground operation, which could simultaneously be supported by Iran as well.

Expressing Turkey's unease about the presence of PKK camps in Iraqi territories, Sinirlioğlu said he made it clear to the Iraqi side that ongoing cooperation between the two neighboring countries should be increased. Sinirlioğlu dispatched verbal messages from President Abdullah Gül and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to Talabani and Zabari. Davutoğlu formally invited Zabari to Ankara for official talks. Their meeting is expected to take place in the next few weeks. Sinirlioğlu also met with Ersed Salihi, leader of the Turkmen Front.

Apart from terror issues, the two countries' officials also reviewed the current state of relations and the upcoming meeting of the High Strategic Council in Turkey in October. Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki is likely to head the Iraqi delegation at the meetings.

In the meantime, the Doğan news agency reported that Leyla Zana, a deputy from the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, met with Talabani in Sulaymaniye on Saturday. The agency said Talabani advised Zana and her party to continue their struggle through peaceful, political means.

Kurdistan Region Halts Oil Exports

Iraq's autonomous Kurdistan region halted crude exports on Sunday, nearly a week after it rejected a new oil and gas law approved by the central government, Oil Minister Abdelkarim al-Luaybi said.

"The government of the Kurdistan region today halted oil exports without giving reasons," Luaybi told AFP on the sidelines of an oil conference in the Jordanian capital.

"This is a great loss for the Iraqi economy, as well as the Kurdish and Iraqi people in general."

An oil ministry official told AFP that Kurdistan's exports of 150,000 barrels of crude per day "dropped in the past two weeks to around 55,000 bpd."

The development came after Kurdistan condemned the draft law, which was approved by the central government in August, and called on parliament to reject it.

"The presidency of the Kurdistan region condemns this manoeuvre and calls on the council of ministers to withdraw the draft immediately, because it contradicts the constitution," it said in a statement.

Kurdish leaders and the central government have squabbled over a number of oil-related issues, including payments, revenue sharing and Baghdad's refusal to recognise the dozens of oil contracts Arbil has signed with international energy firms.

There is also the issue of oil-rich Kirkuk province, which Kurdish authorities want incorporated into their autonomous region, while officials in Baghdad strongly oppose such a move.

The cabinet passed the draft oil law, which would govern the sector and divide responsibility between Baghdad and Iraq's provinces, and submitted it to the Iraqi parliament on August 28.

Turkey-U.S. Talks Over Predator Bid Continue

Turkish officials said Sunday that they were in talks with the United States over deployment of a fleet of Predator drones on its soil, an unmanned aircraft system seen crucially important in Turkey's fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, confirming a Washington Post report.

"Our interest in acquiring Predator drones is known," a Turkish diplomatic source told the Hürriyet Daily News on Sunday, without giving details of the content of the negotiations between the two allies.

According to the Washington Post, Washington is still considering Turkey's request to base a fleet of drones on Turkish soil. Citing an unnamed senior military official, the Post said the Obama administration has not made a decision on the Turkish request.

Turkey officially requested acquisition of six MQ-1 and MQ-6 Predator drones from the U.S. in mid-2009 but the request faced opposition from the U.S. Congress over Ankara's policies regarding Iran and Israel. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan raised the issue during a meeting with U.S. President Barak Obama during a meeting in Canada in 2010 but what he heard about was congress's negative attitude toward Turkey.

The U.S. military has flown the unarmed Predators from Iraqi bases since 2007 and shared the planes' surveillance video with Turkey as part of a secretive joint crackdown on the PKK. Unless a new home for the Predators is found, however, the counterterrorism partnership could cease by Dec. 31, when all U.S. forces are scheduled to withdraw from Iraq.

Turkey asked the Obama administration this year to relocate the Predators to Incirlik Air Base, a joint U.S.-Turkish military installation, according to a senior U.S. military official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the talks have not been made public. "They want to base them in Turkey and allow us to fly them across the border into Iraq," the official said.

It's unclear whether U.S. or Turkish officials are seeking formal permission from Iraq to continue the drone flights, or whether Baghdad would simply turn a blind eye to the Predators when they cross into northern Iraq.

If Iraq objected to the drone flights as a violation of its sovereignty, the unmanned aircraft could hover in Turkish airspace and use cameras to peer miles across the border. There is little to prevent the Predators from making incursions, however; Iraq has only a fledgling air force to patrol its skies.

U.S. military officials favor the drone agreement with Turkey as a way to prevent conflict with the PKK from spiraling out of control. They say U.S. cooperation has restrained Turkey from launching bigger offensives into northern Iraq to try to wipe out the PKK.

Turkey to Co-Chair Anti-Terror Initiative

Turkey and the United States will launch a new initiative aimed at intensifying the joint struggle against terrorism and its roots in the "Arab Spring countries," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced Friday.

The forum will include nearly 30 countries, and its first meeting is scheduled for New York on Sept. 22 on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly meeting, according to Turkish diplomatic sources.

The new initiative, to be called the Global Counterterrorism Forum, or GCTF, will bring together "traditional allies, emerging powers and Muslim-majority countries," Clinton said in a speech in New York.

The U.S. proposed the creation of the Global Counterterrorism Forum "to address the evolving terrorist threat in a way that would bring enduring benefits by helping frontline countries and affected regions acquire the means to deal with threats they face," a fact sheet of the U.S. State Department said in regard to the initiative.

"It is based on recognition that the U.S. alone cannot eliminate every terrorist or terrorist organization," it added.

The GCTF would prioritize civilian capacity building in areas such as the rule of law, border management and countering violent extremism, the State Department said.

The GCTF will take a more strategic approach to civilian counter-terrorism efforts and aims to increase the number of countries both technically and politically capable of dealing with the terrorist challenge.

The founding members of the forum include Algeria, Australia, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Egypt, the European Union, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Morocco, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Pakistan, Qatar, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Spain, Switzerland, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Turkey and the U.S. will co-chair the strategic-level coordinating committee, while five thematic and regional expert-driven working groups, as well as a small administrative unit to be initially hosted by the U.S., will also be established, according to officials.

The GCTF working groups will focus on "the criminal justice sector and rule of law, countering violent extremism, capacity building in the Sahel, capacity building in [East Africa] and capacity building in Southeast Asia," the State Department said.

Relevant GCTF members such as the United Nations and nongovernmental experts will be invited to participate in the working groups and activities. The mechanism will work for the further implementation of the U.N. Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy, officials said.

The initiative aims to create the first-ever multilateral training and research center focused on countering violent extremism, which would be based in the Gulf region, according to officials.

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