Israeli and Palestinian negotiators held a "positive" first face-to-face meeting in more than 15 months and agreed to meet again on Friday, but cautioned that full-blown talks were still some way off.

"The talks and atmosphere were positive," Jordanian Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh told reporters after Tuesday's talks in Amman between Israel's chief negotiator Yitzhak Molcho, his Palestinian counterpart Saeb Erakat and Palestinian negotiator Mohammed Shtayyeh.

Washington, too, welcomed what it described as a "positive development" after months of deadlock in peace talks over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's 2010 refusal to renew a freeze on most settlement construction in the occupied West Bank.

Judeh, who hosted the meeting in the Jordanian capital, voiced cautious optimism.

"The two sides expressed their commitment to a two-state solution. We do not want to raise the level of expectations, but at the same time we do not want to minimize the importance of this meeting," he said. "The Palestinians submitted a paper on borders and security. The Israeli side received it, promising to study it and respond."

A Palestinian official close to the talks told the AFP that "the meeting on Tuesday brought nothing new because the Israeli delegation did not bring up any new element during the discussions." But "we agreed to have a second meeting on Friday in Amman under the auspices of the Quartet and in the presence of Jordan," he said, on condition of anonymity.

He was referring to the international Middle East Quartet that includes the European Union, Russia, the United Nations and the United States.

Palestinian President Mahmud Abbas earlier said the Palestinians were looking to find "the right foundation" to resume talks with Israel.

European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton urged Israel and the Palestine to press ahead with peace efforts on the heels of their talks in Jordan.

Thanking the Jordanian authorities for facilitating the face-to-face meeting, Ashton said:

"I encourage Israel and the Palestinians to build on this promising first meeting and continue to work toward a just, lasting and comprehensive peace in the Middle East," she said in a statement. "The EU remains fully committed to do all it can to contribute to the resolution of the conflict."

Earlier this week, Israeli cabinet Minister Dan Meridor said the fact that a meeting was taking place was "a positive development," but that it did not in itself constitute a return to direct talks. Erakat made the same point in an interview with Voice of Palestine radio.

"This meeting will be devoted to discussing the possibility of making a breakthrough that could lead to the resumption of negotiations. Therefore, it will not mark the resumption of negotiations," he said on Monday.

Direct talks ground to a halt in September 2010, when an Israeli freeze on new West Bank settlement construction expired and Netanyahu declined to renew it.

Abbas met with U.S. envoy David Hale in Ramallah late on Monday and told him there would be no resumption of talks unless Israel froze settlement construction and accepted the pre-1967 borders as the basis for peace talks, a Palestinian official told the AFP.

The Quartet has been trying to draw the two sides back to the negotiating table, asking them for comprehensive proposals on territory and security. White House spokesman Jay Carney acknowledged the difficulties Obama faced in getting a resumption of talks.

"He is doing everything he can to bring them together at the table," Carney said. "And this is obviously a challenging issue -- it has been so for a long time. But the president's very focused on doing what he can to make it happen."
Abed Rabbo said Washington wanted the talks to restart "without any preconditions or promises on settlement expansion.'

The meeting sparked an angry reaction from the Islamist Hamas movement, which has controlled the Gaza Strip since ousting Abbas's forces in 2007.

No Retreat in Anti-PKK Ops, Erdogan Says

Turkey's prime minister has vowed no letup in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, while also pledging to "learn lessons" from last week's mistaken killing of 35 villagers assumed to be militants from the group.

"The struggle against terrorism will continue with determination," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said Monday in his first speech to the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, parliamentary group since his Nov. 26 surgery. "The terrorists will be rendered ineffective wherever they are, be it in the mountains, in the country or across the border. While doing this, we will show utmost care not to harm civilians. We will learn lessons from the mistakes and heal the wounds, but we will never allow neither the terrorists nor their extensions to act as they will."

He also said an investigation was under way "into each and every detail" of the incident, but did not elaborate.

Erdoğan vented anger at the Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, in response to its criticism of the government over the Dec. 28 air raid. In the raid that took place in the southeastern province of Şırnak's Uludere district, a group of smugglers, mostly teenagers, were killed after being misidentified as PKK militants.

"To present, this, as a state bombing its people, is nothing more than an effort to destroy the unity between state and nation. Those who even classify funerals as either Turkish or Kurdish are those who are following the path of the devil," Erdoğan said.

Without naming the party, Erdoğan called the BDP "vampires feeding on youths' blood" and said its leaders "cannot go even to the toilet if their armed masters do not loosen their leashes," referring to the PKK.
The PKK is listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union.

"Unfortunately, unwanted losses occur in the environment of terror. Have you ever blamed the terrorist organization for that and told it that enough is enough?" Erdoğan said. "This nation will not bow down to this malign tumor. Your seeds of discord will never take root on this soil."

The AKP also plans to draft a law that would classify Molotov cocktails, a fixture at Kurdish anti-government demonstrations, as weapons, he said. Turning to the Republican People's Party, or CHP, Erdoğan said its rhetoric over the civilian deaths resembled that of the BDP and the PKK and denounced the main opposition as "irresponsible and opportunist." He also slammed portions of the media for allegedly manipulating the incident.

Tensions between Parties Flare over Botched Raid

The Peace and Democracy Party's, or BDP, co-chair delivered a ferocious tirade against Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Monday in a mounting row over the bombing of 35 civilians, threatening to take the incident to international platforms.

"Regimes that murder their own people are not legitimate. We don't recognize your legitimacy. We don't recognize your prime ministry and mentality. Instead of insulting us, you must first give an account for the massacre of youths and apologize," BDP Co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş told his party's parliamentary group.

His outburst followed Erdoğan's harsh accusations against the BDP earlier in the day.

Demirtaş said the reaction of officials and the people nationwide would have been prompter and stronger if ethnic Turks had perished in the botched raid.

"You are dividing this country emotionally by trying to cover up the massacre. You are dividing this country by hurling insults from Parliament's rostrum. You are insulting millions of people who voted for the BDP," Demirtaş said.

Matching Erdoğan's accusations that the BDP was a puppet of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, Demirtaş called the prime minister a "slave" of Islamic preacher Fethullah Gülen.

"If the government attempts to cover up this massacre, we will take the issue to international platforms," he said.

Republican People's Party, or CHP, Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, for his part, renewed calls on the government to reveal who supplied the intelligence that prompted the airstrike. The plight of the many smugglers active on the Turkish-Iraqi border, who brave the risk of clandestine crossings in return for tiny earnings, should make the government think how successful the Turkish economy actually is," he said.

Kılıçdaroğlu defended his visit to the Gülyazı village and said relatives of the decedents warmly welcomed him, which disturbed Erdoğan." In contrast to the other opposition parties, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, defended the strike, arguing that the army must act even at the slightest suspicion of a threat.

"If there is a one percent chance that those sneaking over the border will hurt our citizens and soldiers, then the government must take immediate action. This is what they have done in the latest incident," MHP leader Devlet Bahçeli told his party's parliamentary group.

The squabbles continued later in the day when Deputy Prime Minister Beşir Atalay briefed Parliament about how the botched strike unfolded. The smugglers were using a route in an uninhabited area where PKK activity had recently increased, and did not respond to flare signals and warning shots that were fired before the strike, he said.

At times shouting from the rostrum, BDP co-chair Gültan Kışanak said:
"We are told it was an operational accident. How can you be so insensible, so arrogant in the face of 35 deaths? If you are human, you must first apologize and ask for forgiveness."

Hamas, Al Fatah Agreement Will Strengthen Palestinian Cause, CHP Says

The main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, chairman Kemal Kilicdaroglu said the latest agreement between Hamas and Al Fatah, as well as the steps which were being taken in accordance with the agreement, would strengthen the Palestinian cause in his meeting with Ismail Haniya, the prime minister of Palestinian administration in Gaza.

After the meeting on Tuesday, CHP Deputy Chairman Faruk Logoglu told reporters that Haniya demanded a meeting from CHP. "We are pleased with it," he said, adding that Kilicdaroglu expressed his pleasure over the agreement between Hamas and Al Fatah.

"Kilicdaroglu said in the meeting that we support Palestine's struggle and want to see Palestine as an independent state," he said.

Logoglu quoted Kilicdaroglu as saying that the CHP considered Israel's blockade of Gaza illegitimate and it must be lifted. Haniya said in the meeting he would like to thank Turkey and CHP for their support.

"Haniya gave detailed information regarding negative effects of Israel's blockade in the meeting. He informed us about medication and health problems as well as power cut and casualties. He also said they will back the meeting with Al Fatah to the bitter end and they are resolute on implementation of the agreement," Logoglu said.

In the meeting, Haniya invited Kilicdaroglu to Gaza, he said.

Turkish Foreign Minister to Visit Iran

Officials say Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu will visit Iran Wednesday for talks on the country's nuclear program and developments in Iraq and Syria.

The two countries' foreign ministers gather twice a year for regular meetings. This visit, however, comes amid increased friction between the two neighboring nations over Turkey's decision to host a NATO missile system designed to counter Iranian missile threats, and also over their opposing views on the Syrian uprising against the regime of President Bashar al-Assad.

Iran is suspected of trying to produce nuclear weapons. Iran says its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes.

Former Top General to Testify in Court

An Istanbul prosecutor's office Monday sent a written notice to former General Chief of Staff Gen. İlker Başbuğ, calling him to testify on Jan. 5 as part of the Internet Memorandum probe.

The former top general is required to testify as a case suspect in the Istanbul courthouse in Beşiktaş. Other suspects in the Internet Memorandum case have said a number of Web sites that are being investigated as part of the probe were done so with Başbuğ's knowledge.

On Dec. 30, an Istanbul court filed a criminal complaint against Başbuğ, whose name was mentioned in the suspects' pleas and other documents, and ruled that a written notice be sent to the Istanbul Chief Prosecutor's Office for the relevant procedures to be initiated.

Istanbul Chief Prosecutor Cihan Kansız then launched an investigation into allegations regarding Başbuğ in accordance with the court's demand. 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.

Turkey, Israel to Meet at Seoul Nuclear Summit

Turkish and Israeli authorities are expected to come together in the South Korean capital, which is set to host the Nuclear Security Summit on March 26-27, amid diplomatic tension between the two countries.

Turkish-Israeli relations were strained following the deaths of nine activists onboard a Gaza-bound Turkish aid flotilla by Israeli soldiers that took place in international waters on May 31, 2010. Turkish officials insist on an apology from Israel for its bloody raid as a condition for repairing diplomatic ties. Israel refuses to comply.

In an interview with Today's Zaman, South Korean Ambassador Lee Sangkyu said the Korean authorities expect to see Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the nuclear summit in Seoul. Lee said Israeli officials have also been invited to the meeting, although it remains unclear who will be representing the country at the summit.

United States President Barack Obama, along with representatives from roughly 50 countries, is expected to be in attendance. The 2010 Nuclear Security Summit was held in Washington.

According to Lee, the summit aims to coordinate nuclear security and prevent terrorists from obtaining access to nuclear technology. The primary objective of the summit is to eliminate nuclear weapons around the globe. The Korean ambassador has said he thinks Turkey has an important role to play in developing a world free of nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Korean authorities are waiting for an offer to be made by Turkey for the construction of a nuclear power plant along the Black Sea coast by Korean firms. Korea missed an opportunity to build Turkey's first nuclear power plant on the southern coast when Turkey signed a deal with the Russians in 2010.

Lee confirmed that Turkey and Korea are not currently negotiating over the construction of a nuclear power plant since the details of the project are not yet known, adding: "We would like to learn the conditions and discuss them."

"Korea has always been interested in nuclear power plants in Turkey and this has not changed. However, we could not agree on the conditions of the first one," Lee said. "The conditions for the new plant are not definite yet. That is why we are not negotiating. We are ready to hear Turkey's offer."

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