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Turkish Prime Minister Arrives in Israel for `long Overdue’ Visit

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Turkish Prime Minister Tansu Ciller arrived in Israel on Thursday for a three- day visit aimed at increasing cooperation between Jerusalem and Ankara in a variety of areas.

Ciller is the first Turkish head of state to visit Israel, and at a welcoming ceremony in Jerusalem she said her trip was “long overdue.”

She also reportedly brought with her a message from Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi, in which he conveyed a willingness to cooperate in combatting terrorism.

Ciller arrived at Ben-Gurion Airport accompanied by an entourage of some 200 people, including five Cabinet ministers, business leaders and representatives from Turkey’s Jewish community.

At a formal welcoming ceremony in Jerusalem, Ciller pledged support for the peace process.

“I step from the old Middle East to the new Middle East, and it is certainly refreshing,” she said.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin noted Turkey’s historic role in Jerusalem, where in the 16th century Ottoman ruler Sultan Suleiman “the Magnificent” built the stone walls that still surround the Old City. He also spoke of a future of peaceful relations with Turkey.

“We see in your visit here,” Rabin said, “a sign and a symbol of a new era of relations between Israel and your great nation. Today we climb another rung on the ladder of these relations.”

After the ceremony, the two leaders and senior officials held a working session at Prime Minister’s Office.

Several bilateral agreements were expected to be signed during the trip, including a plan as another proposal to share police intelligence to combat drug trafficking.

Israel hopes to close a $500 million deal under which it would help upgrade the Turkish air force’s F-4 aircraft and sell it tanker planes for inflight refueling.

At a luncheon with Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Ciller urged Syria to play a role in battling Islamic extremists, saying. “The fight against terrorism has to incorporate the cooperation of Syria.”

Ciller declined to comment on whether she had brought a message from Gadhafi. Foreign Minister Peres confirmed that there was indeed a message, which reportedly conveyed a willingness to cooperate against terror. However, Peres described the letter as “incoherent.”

Ciller also visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem, where she laid a wreath in the Hall of Remembrance.

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