Turkey says trying to help free Israeli soldiers

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ANKARA, Nov 12 (Reuters) Turkey told visiting Israeli President Shimon Peres today it would work for the release of two Israeli soldiers held by Lebanese Hezbollah guerrillas since last year.

Muslim but secular Turkey wants to play a bigger diplomatic role in the West Asia and has good relations with both Israel and its regional arch-foes Iran and Syria as well as with the Palestinians.

''We hope a good result can be achieved (on the Israeli soldiers). Turkey will make every effort to achieve that result,'' President Abdullah Gul told a joint news conference with Peres, describing the issue as ''humanitarian''.

The two soldiers were seized by Hezbollah in July 2006, triggering a war in which around 1,200 people in Lebanon, mostly civilians, and more than 150 Israelis, mostly soldiers, died.

The United Nations is mediating talks to secure a prisoner swap between Hezbollah and Israel. Hezbollah wants to exchange the soldiers for Lebanese and Arab prisoners in Israeli jails.

As Turkey's foreign minister, Gul raised the case of the missing soldiers in the past in his talks with Syria at Israel's request.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas will join Peres in Ankara yesterday for trilateral talks with Gul. Peres and Abbas will then both address Turkey's parliament as part of Ankara's diplomatic drive to bring the two sides closer together.

Peres, Abbas and Gul will also attend the signing of a framework accord tomorrow for the establishment of an industrial zone in the occupied West Bank in which Turkish firms will make investments.

The Ankara visits come just before a fresh round of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks to be hosted by the United States in Annapolis, Maryland. today, Peres said both sides must show pragmatism and determination at that meeting.

Quizzed by an Israeli journalist about Iran's nuclear programme, Gul reaffirmed Turkey's opposition to any country in the region building weapons of mass destruction, though he said every country had the right to develop peaceful nuclear energy.

Western countries and Israel accuse Tehran of trying to build atomic weapons. Tehran says its nuclear programme is solely for peaceful purposes.

Israel is widely believed to be the only country in the West Asia with a nuclear arsenal.

Reuters PD DB1909

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