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Israel downplays Turkey quake aid as salve for ties

Israel to send prefabricated homes in relief of Turkish area affected by quake, Foreign Minister Lieberman says relations between the two may improve

Reuters , Wednesday 26 Oct 2011
Israel
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, (Photo: AP).
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Israel's help for earthquake-struck Turkey is a humanitarian gesture with limited prospects of rebuilding ties between the former allies, Israeli officials said on Wednesday.

Responding to an international appeal by Ankara following Sunday's 7.2 magnitude quake that killed more than 400 people and forced thousands to flee their homes in the eastern Van province, Israel planned to fly out a small number of prefabricated homes and said it could ship hundreds more by sea.

"We said that we would be prepared to provide all possible aid, as they desire and request, and there is no mixing political-diplomatic relations and natural disasters," Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman told Israel's Army Radio.

"We are separating the two things absolutely."

Israeli relief after a 1999 Turkish earthquake helped seal a strategic partnership that has since collapsed over Israel's Palestinian policies and the killing of nine Turks aboard an activist ship that tried to breach its Gaza blockade.

Despite the crisis, Turkey's Islamist-rooted government dispatched firefighters to help Israel contain a deadly blaze in its northern Carmel forest in December.

"When a country is in distress and has humanitarian problems, it is right to help and put things aside for a minute," said Ehud Shani, director-general of Israel's Defence Ministry, which had overseen bilateral military cooperation.

A ministry spokesman said a plane carrying six or seven prefabricated homes was scheduled to depart on Wednesday evening, and another on Thursday. A ship was also being prepared to supply hundreds more of the structures, if required, he said.

Turkey had initially declined Israel's offer of help. Asked during an Israel Radio interview whether the turnaround signalled ties were on the mend, Shani sounded circumspect.

"I think that destruction takes hours. Constructing a building, brick by brick, takes more time," he said. "Therefore every element that we bring to the table will, it seems, bring about some kind of improvement, and we will ultimately reach better days."

Lieberman blamed the breakdown of relations on a "dramatic change in Turkish policy" but said shifting regional strategies could nudge the countries back together.

He cited Turkish anger at neighbouring Syria's crackdown on a citizen revolt, which has pitted Ankara against two old foes of Israel -- Syria and its ally Iran.

"I'm not talking about a warming of relations. I'm talking about trying to identify where the common interests are," Lieberman said. 

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