By Humeyra Pamuk
NEW YORK (Reuters) -Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met for the first time in person on Tuesday, a milestone as two countries have been slowly improving ties strained by disputes over policies toward the Palestinians.
The leaders, who held talks during the annual high-level United Nations General Assembly, agreed to visit each others’ countries soon, a statement from Netanyahu’s office said.
Israel’s top-rated Channel 12 TV said Erdogan may seek to mark the 100th anniversary of the Turkish republic next month with a pilgrimage to a major Jerusalem mosque. There was no formal confirmation of the report.
Relations between the former allies crashed after Israel’s forces killed 10 Turks in a 2010 raid on a pro-Palestinian activist ship that tried to breach its blockade on the Gaza Strip, which is ruled by Hamas Islamists proscribed in the West.
Ankara expelled Israel’s ambassador, a move reversed in 2016 but repeated two years later over the killing of dozens of Palestinians who took part in violent protests at the Gaza border. Israel, which had complained at Ankara’s hosting of Hamas leaders, reciprocally expelled Turkey’s envoy in 2018.
A visit to Turkey by Israeli President Isaac Herzog in March 2022, followed by visits by both foreign ministers, helped the thaw.
Erdogan and Netanyahu discussed political, economic and regional topics as well as the Israeli-Palestinian issue, the Turkish Presidency said in a post on social media platform X.
Erdogan told Netanyahu that the two countries can cooperate on energy, technology, innovation, artificial intelligence as well as cyber security, the presidency said.
Energy has emerged as a main area for potential cooperation.
“In the meeting, opportunities for energy cooperation primarily in areas like natural gas exploration, production and trade were discussed,” said Turkey’s Energy Minister Alparslan Bayraktar, who participated.
Turkey began a charm offensive in 2020 to repair ties with estranged rivals, making overtures to Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia as well as Israel.
(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; editing by Grant McCool and Lincoln Feast.)