LONDON, Feb. 22 (JTA) — The leader of Israel’s closest regional ally is warning the Jewish state that a stable Middle East depends on progress in peace talks with Syria and the Palestinians.
Interviewed over the weekend by the semiofficial Cairo daily Al-Ahram, Turkish President Suleiman Demirel warned Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak that “he can’t withstand the responsibility of causing the failure of the peace process.”
Turkey, he said, is cooperating closely with Egypt in order to advance the peace process and it is also encouraging both the Israelis and the Palestinians.
“The essence of the Middle East peace process is the Palestinian-Israeli dispute and addressing this dispute must have priority. But its settlement cannot be at the expense of the Israeli-Syrian track.
“The Israeli government must deal with both these issues in tandem. I believe that the birth of a new, peaceful Middle East will be of benefit to all.
“There can be no permanent peace and no stability if the Palestine question is not settled fairly, taking into consideration the rightful aspirations of the Palestinian people,” he said.
Turkey also supports the talks between Israel and Syria, Demirel said, adding that he expects both sides to overcome their “difficulties and move forward.”
Demirel said Turkey wanted good relations and enhanced cooperation with Syria, although he conceded that “our relations with it are still limited.”
A long-running dispute between Syria and Turkey — which centers on Turkey’s control of the flow of water from the Euphrates River to Syria — has been exacerbated by the increasingly close military ties that have developed between Turkey and Israel over the past several years.
Israel and Turkey conduct joint military exercises and use each others’ air bases and air space for military training.