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U.S. visit to try to revive Turkish-Israeli defense ties

U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gives a speech on fiscal defense spending at Ft. McNair in Washington April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Came
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel gives a speech on fiscal defense spending at Ft. McNair in Washington April 3, 2013. REUTERS/Gary Came

ANKARA (Reuters) - Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel will try to rekindle military cooperation between Turkey and its former close ally Israel in his first visit to the two countries since taking office, a Turkish official said on Wednesday.

Hagel, whose visit to Turkey will take place close to his Israel trip set for April 21-23, will also discuss regional issues, the official said. Turkey has borders with war-ravaged Syria, as well as with Iran and Iraq.

The U.S. Embassy in Ankara said it would not comment on any potential visits.

Relations between Israel and Turkey, once the Jewish state's closest Muslim ally, fell apart in 2010 after Israeli marines killed nine Turkish activists aboard an aid ship trying to break Israel's naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip.

But in a rapprochement brokered by U.S. President Barack Obama last month, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized for the killings to his Turkish counterpart Tayyip Erdogan and pledged compensation to the bereaved or injured.

During his visit, the official said, Hagel would try to encourage both countries to restart military cooperation, which used to include maneuvers and defense contracts.

Apart from relations with Israel, the civil war in Syria is likely to feature prominently in discussions.

The United States has provided two of six NATO Patriot missile defense systems in Turkey, a NATO member, to help protect it from any missile attack from Syria.

Turkey has received hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees and has thrown its weight behind rebels trying to oust President Bashar al-Assad.

Hagel's visit will follow a trip by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was in Turkey over the weekend for his second visit there in just over a month. During that visit Kerry also urged Turkey to fully normalize ties with Israel.

Kerry and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a core group of the Friends of Syria should convene soon.

On Wednesday, the Turkish official said that meeting could take place in Turkey, although he did not give a date.

(Reporting by Gulsen Solaker; Writing by Jonathon Burch; Editing by Jason Webb)

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