Israeli President Reuven Rivlin thanked his Turkish counterpart Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday for his country’s assistance in helping to battle the wave of fires that have been raging across Israel since last week.
During a telephone call, Rivlin and Erdogan also discussed the rapprochement in ties between Israel and Turkey.
Rivlin told Erdogan that he met with the Turkish pilots flying firefighting planes and thanked them personally for their help.
“They do wonderful work and we very much appreciate all they do,” Rivlin said, adding that “I want to thank you from the bottom of our hearts for your decision to send us help when we needed it in fighting the fires,” according to a transcript of the call released by Rivlin’s office.
“As soon as I found out that the fire was spreading I requested we send our helicopters and teams to help, and I hope and pray that the mission will end with the best outcome possible,” Erdogan told Rivlin in response.
Since Tuesday, firefighters have been battling a series of wildfires throughout the country. The worst of the fires hit the city of Haifa on Thursday, forcing some 60,000 residents to evacuate their homes. The residents have since been cleared to return, though hundreds of houses were damaged.
Israel has been assisted by firefighting teams from several countries, including Russia, Turkey, Greece, France, Spain and Croatia.
Palestinian Authority fire crews also joined the efforts last week, sending 41 firefighters and eight trucks, along with teams from Jordan and helicopters from Egypt.
During his conversation with Rivlin, Erdogan also addressed the recent renewal of Israel-Turkish ties, noting that the exchange of ambassadors will occur soon following Israel’s selection of an ambassador to Turkeytwo weeks ago.
“The normalization of the relations between Turkey and Israel is of utmost importance for the whole region,” Erdoğan said, emphasizing that the two countries “can keep working together in the domain of natural gasses and that the conversations between our energy ministries will bear fruit.”
Erdogan also expressed his concern regarding the recently proposed bill that will prohibit the use of loudspeakers for religious purposes, in particular that of mosques, which Turkey has called “unacceptable.”Rivlin assured him that the issue will be “considered with sensitivity, as any matter of freedom of speech and religion should be.”
Rivlin also requested Erdogan’s assistance in returning the bodies of Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, which are currently being held in Gaza by Hamas after their bodies were taken by the Islamist group during its war with in Israel in the summer of 2014.