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Israeli, Turkish leaders meet as tensions ease

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses the 77th session of the United Nations General Assembly
— United Nations (United States) (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday met for the first time in more than a decade with an Israeli prime minister, with Yair Lapid seeking his help on citizens held by Palestinian militants Hamas.

The two leaders met on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, a month after the countries announced the restoration of diplomatic ties following years of tensions.

Lapid "brought up the issue of missing and captive Israelis and the importance of bringing them home," the prime minister's office said in a statement.

The Israeli leader also raised concerns about arch-enemy Iran and "thanked President Erdogan for intelligence cooperation," his office said.

Turkey in 1949 became the first Muslim-majority nation to recognize Israel.

But relations soured under Erdogan, who has moved away from his country's secularism since he became paramount leader in 2003. He last met an Israeli prime minister in 2008.

Relations deteriorated sharply in 2010 after the deaths of 10 civilians following an Israeli raid on the Turkish Mavi Marmara ship, part of a flotilla trying to breach a blockade by carrying aid into the Gaza Strip.

Erdogan has maintained relations with Hamas, the Islamist movement that controls the densely populated Gaza Strip. The group is believed to be holding two Israeli civilians.

In his address to the UN General Assembly, Erdogan renewed calls for the establishment of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital.

But he also said that Turkey was "determined to continue to develop our relations with Israel for the sake of the future, peace and stability of not only the region, but also of Israel, the Palestinian people and ours."

Erdogan in recent months has also moved to reconcile with regional rivals including Saudi Arabia, with some analysts believing he is prioritizing efforts to address economic woes at home before elections next year.

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