Turkey still building Israel ties

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His visit, which began Tuesday, comes a week after the Turkish Parliament ratified a free-trade agreement with Israel.

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel this week approved the pact, which goes into effect May 1.

Turkey's secularist generals seek closer ties with the Jewish state, a move resisted by Islamist Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who grudgingly agreed to meet with Levy.

During the meeting, Erbakan called on Israel to stop its construction activities in Jerusalem and the territories, adding that Israel should withdraw from "land it has occupied for years."

Tuesday's talks marked the first time that Turkey's Islamist prime minister met with an Israel political leader. Erbakan has until now refused to respond to messages sent by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and only conveyed his agreement to meet with Levy at the last minute.

Still, both Israel and Turkey have expressed interest in deepening cooperation in other realms.

The Turkish army chief of staff has expressed interest in a proposal for joint naval maneuvers with Israel and the United States.

Such exercises, which are expected to be finalized later this month, would be another step in tightening Israeli-Turk military cooperation.

Under a defense pact signed by the two countries last year, Israeli planes have carried out exercises from Turkish military air bases, senior military officials have visited each other's countries and Israel has begun modifying Phantom jet fighters for the Turkish air force.

Levy's visit to Turkey came as international criticism increased against Israel for its recent decision to build a new Jewish neighborhood in eastern Jerusalem.

In a separate development, the Persian Gulf state of Oman this week confirmed that it had denied entry visas to two Israeli diplomats.