Israeli diplomat in Turkey expects ambassador appointment “within weeks”

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Ankara (Reuters) – The Israeli charge d’affaires in Turkey said on Friday the re-appointment of an ambassador to Ankara could happen within weeks, while repeating Israel’s expectation that the Hamas office in Istanbul be closed down.

In a roundtable meeting with journalists, Israel’s current top representative in Ankara Irit Lillian said the process of re-appointing an ambassador to Turkey was only a matter of “when and not if.”

“It’s only because of elections in Israel that things might be delayed on the Israeli side but I hope it will be on time and it will be just a few more weeks and the process will be over,” Lillian said.

Israel will hold a general election on Nov. 1.

Earlier this month, Turkey and Israel agreed to re-appoint respective ambassadors more than four years after they were called back, marking another milestone after months of improved relations.

The two regional powers had expelled ambassadors in 2018 over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests on the Gaza border against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.

But they have been working to mend long-strained ties with energy emerging as a key area for potential cooperation.

Lillian reiterated the challenges to the ties, saying that the biggest obstacle to the “positive tendency seen throughout the year” was the existence of an Hamas office in Istanbul.

“There are plenty of challenges, but from our point of view, one of the main obstacles is the Hamas office in Istanbul,” she said.

“Hamas is a terrorist organisation, and it is no secret that Israel expects Turkey to close this office and send the activists there away from here,” Lillian added.

A visit to Turkey by Israeli President Isaac Herzog in March, followed by visits by both foreign ministers, helped warm relations after more than a decade of tensions.

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid held a phone call earlier this month, expressing their satisfaction with the progress in ties and congratulated each other on the decision to appoint ambassadors.

Erdogan said necessary steps to appoint the ambassador would be taken as soon as possible, while Lapid said the strengthening ties would lead to achievements in commerce and tourism.