Turkey: 90 Percent Drop in Israeli Tourists

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ANKARA - Turkey's Tourism and Culture Ministry suffered a 90 percent drop in Israeli tourists in June, according to statistics posted on the government's website.

About 2,600 Israelis visited Turkey in June, compared with more than 27,000 in the same month last year.

The huge drop in Israeli tourism followed a warning by Israel's Counter-terrorism Bureau advising Israelis to avoid traveling to Turkey. While the ban was lifted in July, the bureau warned Israelis visiting Turkey not to attract attention by speaking Hebrew or otherwise identifying themselves.

The advisory followed the May 31 encounter aboard the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara in which nine pro-Palestinian activists were killed after attacking Israeli Navy commandos as they boarded the ship. The flagship led a six-vessel flotilla meant to breech Israel's naval blockade of the Gaza Strip.

Last month, Antalya Mayor Mustafa Akaydin urged Israelis to vacation in Turkey as they have in the past.

"The friendly relations between our two nations are important to me and I am concerned about the deterioration in ties," the mayor told reporters.

"I have many Jewish friends from my days as a student, and it was a great honor for us to host you here for years - and crazy numbers," the mayor said.

"Unfortunately, the number of Israeli tourists began to decrease in 2008, and the largest drop was recorded this summer," he said.

"It is a mistake to assume that the Turks will not welcome the Israelis with kindness. Antalya's economy is dependent on tourism, particularly from Israel," Akaydin said.

"I believe that Israeli tourists who will also visit Istanbul and Ankara will be met by the same atmosphere.

"To us, the Israelis' money is not as important as the friendly relations between our nations. I am very concerned about the ties between our countries. We have the strongest economies in the Middle East, and the relationship between us is crucial to the entire region's stability," he said.

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Ynet news contributed to this report.

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