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Israel and Turkey discuss compensation for ship raid victims

The Turkish-owned cruise liner Mavi Marmara is seen under maintenance at a shipyard in Istanbul April 21, 2013. Israel apologised to Turkey
The Turkish-owned cruise liner Mavi Marmara is seen under maintenance at a shipyard in Istanbul April 21, 2013. Israel apologised to Turkey

ANKARA (Reuters) - An Israeli delegation arrived in Turkey on Monday for the first time since 2010 to discuss compensation for the killing of nine Turks by Israeli commandos on a Gaza-bound aid ship, a sign of improving relations between the two U.S. allies.

The visit, led by an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, follows an apology from Israel last month, brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama, for the killings on board the Mavi Marmara aid ship in May 2010.

Turkey cut its once extensive ties with the Jewish state after the Israelis killed nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists on the vessel which was trying to breach Israel's blockade of Gaza, a Palestinian enclave run by the Hamas Islamist group.

Ankara expelled Israel's ambassador and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report into the incident, released in September 2011, largely exonerated the Jewish state.

It set precise conditions for normalizing ties - an apology, compensation and Israel lifting its embargo on Gaza.

A rapprochement between two of Washington's main Middle Eastern allies could bolster U.S. influence in the region, help coordination to contain spillover from the Syrian civil war, and ease Israel's diplomatic isolation among its neighbors.

But for all the diplomatic flurry, a full restoration of ties still appears some way off.

Israel has made clear it did not commit to ending its Gaza blockade as part of the reconciliation, an oft-repeated Turkish demand, saying days after the apology that it could clamp down even harder on the enclave if security is threatened.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry asked Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday to delay a visit planned for late May to Gaza.

Kerry, who has visited the region several times in recent weeks, said Erdogan's trip could endanger U.S. efforts to revive Ankara's ties with Israel and Middle East peace talks.

(Writing by Parisa Hafezi; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Angus MacSwan)

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