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Israel gradually returning diplomats to Turkey after Gaza row

Sources say staff began going back earlier this month, despite relations between the countries growing more strained
Turkish cavalry guards waving the Israeli and Turkish flags, to welcome the Israeli president in the capital Ankara, 9 March 2022 (AFP)
Turkish cavalry guards waving the Israeli and Turkish flags, to welcome the Israeli president in the capital Ankara, 9 March 2022 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Ankara

Israel began to send back its diplomats to Turkey earlier this month, half a year after it withdrew them over security concerns, Israeli sources told Middle East Eye on Monday.

“As the Israeli departure was due to security reasons, Israel is trying to gradually send back its diplomats,” an Israeli source told MEE. 

A Turkish official confirmed that Israeli diplomats have been returning to their posts.

The move came after bilateral relations hit a new low when Ankara completely halted trade with Israel earlier this month, demanding unhindered flow of humanitarian aid into Gaza Strip and a ceasefire.

Even though both countries normalised relations last year and exchanged ambassadors, the 7 October Hamas-led attack on Israel caused a rift.

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Turkey initially kept its criticism towards Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government rather muted, and also condemned Hamas’ attacks on civilians.

However, the government’s posture changed over time as suffering in the Gaza Strip mounted. Turkey first recalled its ambassador for consultations in November.

Since suffering significant losses in Turkey's local elections in March, the Turkish government has intensified its criticism of Israel and taken a series of steps against Netanyahu's government.

Turkey also announced earlier this month that it would participate South Africa’s genocide case against Israel at the International Court of Justice.

Shouting matches

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s description of Netanyahu as worse than Nazis has triggered shouting matches between Turkish and Israeli officials. On Sunday, Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz called Erdogan “a tyrant, inciter and liar”.

The Israeli source noted that Turkish diplomatic representation in Israel had not been lowered since the 7 October attack. Turkey's embassy in Tel Aviv and consulate in Jerusalem have been kept open, and only the ambassador was recalled for consultations.

“So, although the bilateral relations are very tense, we will try to do our best while taking into account possible risks,” the source said. 

“Therefore the return of the diplomats will be gradual and cautious.”  

Middle East Eye has asked the Israeli foreign ministry for comment.

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