Turkey Offers Its Assistance In The Negotiations For The Release Of Gilad Shalit

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Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdogan told a delegation of the European Jewish Congress (EJC) that his country would be happy to assist with the negotiations for the release of captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit. The delegation,led by EJC President Moshe Kantor, hold two days of talks in Ankara with the Turkish leaders. Amongst several topics of discussion were calls for Turkey as non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council to take a leading role in stabilizing the Middle East, especially in light of the threat posed by the Iranian nuclear program.

The EJC also discussed the idea of an annual inter-faith dialogue between Muslims, Jews and Christians, the Turkish authorities’ role against anti-Semitism and racism and Turkey’s position as a bridge to Central Asia for the Jewish community. While Turkey has been active in the fight against anti-Semitism, the EJC said that a “lingering anti-Semitism” still remains in the country, especially in the Turkish media. The pan-European Jewish organisation expressed the hope that the authorities “will act to impede the spreading of hatred.”

The EJC delegation, which was accompanied by the leader of the 30,000-strong Turkish Jewish community, Silvyo Ovadya, met also with Turkey’s President Abdullah Gul and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan. Babacan evoked the similarity between the Turkish and Jewish people. He cited the Jewish experience as a good example for Turkey which wishes to fully integrate into Europe but maintains its identity. The EJC lauded Turkey’s efforts to assist in bringing peace to the Middle East. Ankara’s close strategic alliance with Israel has allowed it to become an important conduit for discussions bringing the different sides together for negotiations. Turkey is mediating between Israel and Syria.

The Turkish officials acknowledged that there is a great will for peace on the Israeli and Syrian side and asked the EJC to assist in maintaining this movement towards peace. Prime Minister Erdogan expressed the hope that the upcoming Israeli elections will not halt the talks with Syria. The EJC said it considers vital for the Turkish authorities to prevent military hardware from Iran passing through its territory on its way to Lebanon to assist Hezbollah.

Both the EJC delegation and the Turkish officials expressed concern over the Iranian military nuclear program and agreed that it was in neither Turkey’s nor Europe’s interest that Iran amass nuclear weaponry. In its new position in the UN Security Council, Turkey should seek practical ways to prevent a nuclear Iran and push for regional stability and dialogue, the EJC said.

The Turkish President agreed to send Turkish representatives to two of the EJC initiatives, the European Council on Tolerance and Reconciliation (ECTR) and the International Luxembourg Forum on Preventing Nuclear Catastrophe. The ECTR is a non-governmental organisation, which is comprised of eminent European elder statesmen, Nobel Peace Prize laureates and other world renowned individuals for their achievements in promoting tolerance. The Luxembourg Forum is a group of leading world-known experts on nuclear non-proliferation and arms control.

EJC President Moshe Kantor said that Turkey is a model of tolerance and represents ‘an open and modern form of Islam.’ He stressed that the European day of Jewish Culture is celebrated annually in Turkey where synagogues and other Jewish institutions are open to the general public.