JERUSALEM: Israel has authorised Turkey to send staff and equipment to a new hospital which is under construction in the Gaza Strip following a diplomatic request from Ankara, an Israeli official said on Tuesday.
An Israeli newspaper considered close to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the approval was a gesture aimed at thawing relations between the one-time allies which became icy following a 2010 Israeli raid on a ship seeking to break the Jewish state's Gaza blockade, in which nine Turkish activists were killed.
"This appears to be an important step in helping produce reconciliation between Turkey and Israel," Israel Hayom said.
Guy Inbar, a spokesman for the Israeli defence ministry body that coordinates with the Palestinians, said construction of the new hospital had been carried out without Israeli approval or involvement, with materials apparently smuggled through tunnels under the border with Egypt.
"The approval is for the contents of the hospital and for about 25 Turkish professional staff to work there," he told AFP, saying the equipment would be sent to Ashdod port in southern Israel then taken to Gaza in trucks.
Palestinian officials in Gaza said construction of the building was almost complete.
The hospital is being built on the site of the former Netzarim settlement in central Gaza, which was evacuated during Israel's 2005 pullout from the territory.
Israel Hayom said the shipment would include boilers, thermostats, radiators, drinking-water systems and fire-extinguishing equipment.
It said Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was expected to visit Gaza to open the hospital.
The Israeli blockade on Gaza was first imposed in June 2006 following the capture by militants from the territory of an Israeli soldier, who was eventually freed in October 2011 in a trade for 1,000 Palestinian prisoners held by Israel.
It was strengthened in 2007, when the Islamist Hamas movement took control of Gaza, then eased somewhat following an international outcry over the killing of the Turkish activists.