Turkish minister aims to boost Palestinian economy in rare West Bank trip

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Turkey’s top diplomat announced Tuesday a raft of new agreements to bolster the struggling Palestinian economy, during the first high-level Turkish visit to the Israeli-occupied West Bank in 15 years.

During Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu’s trip to Ramallah, Turkey signed nine new pacts with the embattled Palestinian Authority, ranging from agriculture to education and trade.

Cavusoglu will meet Israeli officials on Wednesday, the latest step in a diplomatic thaw between Ankara and the Jewish state. He will also make a private visit to the al-Asqa mosque compound in Israeli-annexed east Jerusalem.

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Alongside his Palestinian counterpart Riyad al-Maliki, Cavusoglu pledged to push ahead with plans for the construction of an industrial zone in the Palestinian territories.

“The necessary order has been given; there is no luxury for evading and delaying this project,” he said, also setting a $2 billion annual bilateral trade target and pledging more scholarships with Palestinians to study in Turkey.

The World Bank warned this month that the Palestinian economy was in a “precarious” state, with the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority - a major West Bank employer - only paying partial wages since November.

Maliki described Cavusoglu’s visit as “historic” and reflecting the “special relationship between the two countries.”

Turkey has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, but visits to the West Bank had been obstructed by a 15-year diplomatic rupture between Ankara and Israel.

Israel and Turkey proclaimed a new era in relations following President Isaac Herzog’s visit to Ankara and Istanbul in March.

Cavusoglu’s Ramallah visit came as fresh violence rocked the West Bank flashpoint of Jenin.

Israel’s army said a shootout erupted between troops and Palestinians during the latest in a series of operations in the Jenin area, with a man suspected of “terrorist activity” arrested.

Three Palestinians were wounded, according to the Palestinian health ministry.

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