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Thursday, 25 April, 2002, 01:17 GMT 02:17 UK
Turkey and Greece in Mid-East effort
Israeli soldiers in Bethlehem
Israeli troops remain in West Bank towns
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By Tabitha Morgan
BBC correspondent in Greece
line

The foreign ministers of old enemies Greece and Turkey are hoping to meet Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat on Thursday.

The visit is a gesture intended to demonstrate that even bitter rivals can cooperate in the search for peace.

Turkey and Greece have very deep problems, but... we have shown there can be dialogue... even when problems persist

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem

It is unlikely to change anything on the ground in the Middle East but is, nonetheless, loaded with symbolic significance.

Greek Foreign Minister George Papandreou said that despite the differences that still existed between Greece and Turkey, the two countries had begun a new approach in their dealings with each other, which had already brought them closer together.

The improvement in diplomatic relations between Greece and Turkey owe as much to the personal rapport that Mr Papandreou and his Turkish counterpart, Ismail Cem, have established with one another.

Dreamland?

The neighbouring countries remain at odds over ownership of islands in the Aegean, and the continuing partition of Cyprus.

But much of the hostile rhetoric that characterised their dealings with one another just a few years ago disappeared shortly after Mr Papandreou assumed office in 1999.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem
Turkish Foreign Minister Cem's good rapport with his Greek counterpart has helped
In the same year, strong earthquakes in the eastern Mediterranean brought ordinary Greeks and Turks closer together, as they offered mutual support and practical help.

Now the two foreign ministers appear to hope that their joint visit will demonstrate that it is possible for two countries to solve their differences peaceably - although their critics have been quick to dismiss the trip as a public relations exercise.

"Lucky are they who live in a dreamland", one retired Turkish diplomat was quoted as saying to a Turkish newspaper.

How impressed Israeli and Palestinian politicians will be by this move remains to be seen.

While the Palestinians would certainly welcome any such gesture of international support, Mr Sharon hardly seems in the mood to be influenced by political gestures of this kind.

See also:

24 Apr 02 | Middle East
No breakthrough in Bethlehem talks
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Mubarak denounces Israel
24 Apr 02 | Middle East
Hamas bans children's 'sacrifices'
21 Apr 02 | Middle East
Palestinians flee Bethlehem church
04 Apr 02 | Middle East
Church with a turbulent history
16 Apr 02 | Middle East
Eyewitness: Inside ruined Jenin
18 Apr 02 | Middle East
Jenin camp 'horrific beyond belief'
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