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December 18, 2013 11:16 am

Israel to Resume Flights to Turkey After Six Years

avatar by Joshua Levitt

An El Al Boeing 747-238B. Photo: WikiCommons.

An El Al Boeing 747-238B. Photo: WikiCommons.

Israel and Turkey agreed on Tuesday to raise security standards at Turkish airports that would allow Israeli civil aircraft to resume flying there after a six-year hiatus, Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported on Wednesday.

Israeli Civil Aviation Authority director Giora Romm and Turkish counterpart Bilal Eksi signed the agreement on Tuesday in Ankara, which will come into effect in the Summer of 2014.

Last month, El Al CEO Eliezer Shkedi said 112 flights leave Tel Aviv’s  Ben Gurion Airport for Turkey each week, but none by Israeli airlines, a situation which he described as “unacceptable” and a financial “disaster,” in an interview with the Times of Israel.

Turkish Airlines, the country’s national flag carrier, is now the most active airline out of Tel Aviv after El Al, with 53 weekly flights from Tel Aviv to Istanbul. Pegasus Airlines and other Turkish charter companies offer an additional 59 weekly flights, bringing the total number to 112, up from 42 in 2010.

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The agreement brings more normalcy in relations between the two countries. In May, after three years, Israeli and Turkish officials reached a draft agreement to end their diplomatic dispute.

Turkey broke off relations with Israel following the May 2010 Gaza flotilla incident, when Israeli soldiers boarded the Mavi Marmara vessel as it attempted to break Israel’s security blockade of Gaza. The incident resulted in the death of nine Turkish militants who had attacked the Israelis. The diplomatic standoff between Israel and Turkey ended when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, encouraged by U.S. President Barack Obama, called Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the end of Obama’s recent visit to Israel and apologized for the deaths of the flotilla militants.

As development of Israel’s natural gas fields matures, a strategic decision of how to get the energy into Europe will likely involve a route through Cyprus or a pipeline directly to Turkey, giving both sides a large financial incentive to improve their relations.

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