Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan Reuters

Top officials from Turkey and Israel have begun new closed-door talks on a deal to normalize ties more than half a decade after relations were downgraded, a report said Thursday.

Delegations led by powerful Turkish foreign ministry undersecretary Feridun Sinirlioglu and Joseph Ciechanover, an adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, and Israeli National Security Adviser Jacob Nagel started talks in Geneva late on Wednesday, the Turkish NTV television channel reported.

Israeli officials declined to comment and the Turkish foreign ministry said it would neither confirm nor deny the talks.

NATO member Turkey was a key regional ally of Israel until the two countries fell out in 2010 over the infamous Mavi Marmara incident, in which IDF soldiers were forced to open fire to save their lives after being attacked and wounded by Turkish activists armed with knives and metal bars. The ship refused repeated orders to turn back, insisting on trying to breach Israel's legal naval blockade on Gaza.

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further raised hackles in Israel with his frequent inflammatory rhetoric towards the Jewish state.

But the atmosphere was transformed following the revelation in December that the two sides had met that month in secret talks to seek a rapprochement.

The Geneva talks are the first since the December meeting, NTV said.

Turkey has repeatedly made clear three conditions for a normalization: the lifting of the Gaza blockade that is meant to provide the influx of weapons to the terrorists, compensation for the Mavi Marmara attackers, and an apology for the incident.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu already apologized under pressure by US President Barack Obama, and negotiations appear to have made progress on compensation, leaving the blockade on the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip the main hurdle.

Even amid the talks Turkey is planning a $5 billion project to reconstruct Gaza, and prime among the plans is a major seaport for the Hamas enclave. The Israeli government has firmly opposed such a seaport, given the blatant danger of it being used to smuggle in weapons.

Turkey likewise continues to give its open support to the Hamas terrorist organization, which calls for the genocide of Jews in its very charter.

Omer Celik, the spokesman of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), said Thursday the negotiations were "going well," without confirming the new Geneva talks.

But he emphasized the importance of Israel fulfilling all the "conditions" for a deal to be reached. "Details are very important in these negotiations," he told reporters in Ankara.

Meanwhile, Haaretz reported Thursday that Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Likud) is demanding that any reconciliation agreement with Turkey includes Hamas's return of the bodies of two Israeli soldiers who fell in 2014 Operation Protective Edge, Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin.

Analysts have suggested that Turkey's desire for a rapprochement has been accelerated by the need for Ankara to make up for the crisis in its ties with Moscow after the shooting down of a Russian warplane, with a particular eye on Israel's gas reserves.

AFP contributed to this report.