Turkish FM stresses strategic importance of ties with Israel .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} Relations between Turkey and Israel remain of "strategic" importance despite Ankara's severe criticism of the Jewish states offensive in the Gaza Strip, Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said Wednesday.

"The relations between Turkey and Israel are strategic relations," Babacan told Turkey's NTV television in a live interview from Davos, Switzerland, where he is attending the World Economic Forum.

"In an environment in which Turkey's relations with Israel are non-existent, Israels presence in the region will not be that easy. The Israelis also understand that," he said.

Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan lashed out vehemently at Israel almost daily during the 22-day offensive against Hamas-ruled Gaza, while a senior aide of his shuttled between exiled Hamas leaders based in Syria and Egypt where the ceasefire efforts were focused.

The government's stance triggered criticism that Turkey had put itself in the position of a supporter of Hamas, listed as a terrorist group by the West, and dealt a blow to its close ties with Israel.

Babacan defended Ankara's policy saying that the conflict cannot be resolved with Hamas being ignored. He stressed that the Islamist movement for its part should renounce violence.

Turkey and Israel maintained contact throughout the crisis, the minister said, adding that he personally had several telephone conversations with his Israeli counterpart Tzipi Livni.

Turkey has been Israel's main regional ally since 1996 when the two signed a military cooperation agreement, much to the ire of Arab countries and Iran.

But Turkey at the same time has maintained close relations with the Palestinians and supports their cause for statehood.

Ankara’s criticism of Israel has become more vocal since the Islamist-rooted Justice and Development Party came to power in 2002.