Israel and Turkey agreed on Wednesday to fully restore diplomatic ties and return ambassadors to the two countries.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have gradually improved in recent months, after years of rift over Palestine.

Ankara immediately said the move did not mean that Turkey would abandon the Palestinians and that it would “continue to defend” their cause.

“Improving relations will help deepen ties between the two peoples, expand economic, trade and cultural ties and strengthen regional stability,” Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s office said on Wednesday.

Tensions between Turkey and Israel were first sparked in 2010 when Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish NGO ship carrying aid to Gaza. Turkish activists and Israeli soldiers were injured in the incident, both sides claim.

In 2018, the two countries in the Middle East expelled each other’s ambassadors over the killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces during protests in Gaza against the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem.

Lapid’s office announced that ambassadors and consul generals would return, after the “decision” [was made] to raise the level of ties to full diplomatic relations” with his Turkish counterpart.

The Israeli prime minister had telephone contact with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday evening, according to a statement from his office.

The couple agreed to strengthen relations, which they hoped would lead to “a lot of achievements”, especially in the tourism and economic areas, it added.

Lapid said direct flights from Israel to Turkey will also resume soon.

Israeli visits to Turkey, which number in the tens of thousands, also contributed to the rapprochement.

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

Turkey’s top diplomat Mevlüt Cavusoglu said on Wednesday that his country “will continue to defend the rights of Palestinians” despite the thawing of relations with Israel.

“It is important that our messages [on the Palestinian question] are sent directly through the ambassador,” he said, announcing that a Turkish ambassador would be sent to Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital.

A staunch supporter of the Palestinians, Erdogan has in the past criticized Israel, which occupied the Palestinian West Bank and East Jerusalem in 1967 while subjecting Gaza to a 15-year blockade.

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