U.S. Middle East special envoy George Mitchell has met with the president of Turkey Thursday as part of his quest for peace in the region.

Ambassador Mitchell met with Turkey's political leadership and signaled the United State's desire to see Turkey and Israel maintain close relations. The relationship between the two nations has been strained after Turkey accused Israel of using excessive force in an offensive against Hamas that took a heavy toll on Gaza's civilians.

After meeting with Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Mitchell stressed the importance of Turkey in his Middle East peace efforts.

"Turkey is crucial ally of the United States, and important force for peace and security in the Middle east," Mitchell said.  "As an important democratic nation with  strong relations with Israel it has a unique role to play and has significant influence on our effort to promote comprehensive peace."

Turkey has been playing an active role in working to resolve tensions across the Middle East. Earlier last year, Ankara mediated the Syrian-Israeli peace talks. But those efforts broke down following Israel's attack on Gaza. The increased tension between Israel and Turkey was highlighted last month when Mr. Erdogan  walked out of a debate with the Israeli president at the economic summit in Davos, accusing israel of killing civilians.

Analysts say the outburst has raised questions over Turkey's impartiality. But Mitchell was keen to look to the future.

"As I discussed with the prime minister and other members of the government it is important for us now to look forward and work together to build a secure and prosperous future for all the people in the region," Mitchell said.

According to experts, the Turkish government is taking on a new role as mediator with the political leadership of Hamas. The Islamic rooted government has developed friendly ties with Hamas in the last few years. Because of their efforts, Mitchell said he sees Turkey playing an immediate role in his peace efforts to help secure a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.

"We welcome Turkey's upcoming donor conference in Sharm el-Sheik, and we look forward to its leadership as we actively pursue that peace beginning with a durable cease-fire and with a strong efforts to meet the humanitarian needs in Gaza," Mitchell said.

Analysts say such positive words will be welcomed by the Turkish prime minister who has faced increasing criticism over his ties with of Hamas at the expense of strained relations with Israel.