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Sharon Visits Turkey, Seeks Assistance in Ending Mideast Violence - 2001-08-08

Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon made a one-day visit to Turkey, Israel's staunchest regional ally. Mr. Sharon was seeking Turkey's help to end nearly 11 months of Israeli-Palestinian violence. Prime Minister Sharon arrived in Turkey Wednesday on his first-ever visit here since he was elected prime minister in February.

During his day-long visit, Mr. Sharon held talks with Turkish Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and President Ahmet Necdet Sezer. Speaking at a joint news conference following talks with Prime Minister Ecevit, the Israeli Prime Minister repeated his demands that the Palestinians end what he termed their acts of terror as a precondition for resuming peace talks.

Turkish officials quoted by Turkish private television news channel, NTV, said the meeting between the two prime ministers had been stormy. Mr. Sharon asked his Turkish counterpart to exert pressure on Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat to end the nearly 11-month uprising in the Palestinian controlled West Bank and Gaza strip.

Mr. Ecevit reportedly termed Mr. Sharon's demands, which include an international economic blockade against the Palestinians, as unrealistic. Turkey backs Palestinian aspirations for statehood. There is widespread public sympathy for the plight of the Palestinian people. Police broke up a pro-Palestinian demonstration in Istanbul and arrested 35 protestors.

For all their differences, the two prime ministers agreed that escalating violence in the Middle East should not impact bilateral relations between their two countries. Those relations have been flourishing ever since the signing of a military cooperation agreement in 1996 under which Israel and Turkey conduct joint military exercises in their respective territories.

Israel has also become one of Turkey's principal arms suppliers. Defense projects involving the sale of Israeli-made missiles and technology to upgrade Turkish tanks were among the main topics taken up by the two leaders on Wednesday.

Arab nations and Iran have repeatedly expressed concerns that what they term the "strategic alliance" between Turkey and Israel poses a threat to regional security and peace. Both countries deny their military partnership targets neighboring countries.