"We have let it be known to the two parties, with whom we enjoy excellent relations, that we are completely ready to do anything we can to contribute towards peace," Erdogan said after talks with Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas on Monday.

"It is up to the two parties to determine the type of assistance that we can provide and carry out," he said following the meeting in the West Bank town of Ram Allah.

After talks late on Sunday with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, both Erdogan and Sharon expressed confidence that the visit would help move the Middle East peace process forward.

"I came here to contribute to the peace process in the Middle East," Erdogan said at a joint press conference with Sharon.

Positive atmosphere

Ergogan, who triggered a diplomatic crisis last year by accusing Israel of engaging in "state terrorism", said the two countries needed to show a united front in the global war on terror by attacking its root causes.

"I believe this visit will certainly help the creation of a positive atmosphere in the Middle East and will allow the advance of political processes and, with God's help, we will reach peace," Sharon said.

Erdogan met senior Palestinian
leaders in Ram Allah on Monday

The Israeli prime minister said he believed Turkey could play a role in helping the Palestinians economically after Israel's withdrawal of all troops and Jewish settlers from the Gaza Strip this summer.

"Turkey has the capacity to help the Palestinians after the redeployment in the economic field," he said, suggesting that Ankara could contribute by building power stations, desalination plants and high-rise buildings to house refugees in the territory.

Erdogan also extended an invitation for the Israeli leader to visit Turkey, and Sharon accepted, saying he would come "as soon as possible".

"I believe this visit will certainly help the creation of a positive atmosphere in the Middle East and will allow the advance of political processes and, with God's help, we will reach peace"

Cooperation stressed

The Turkish leader, whose Justice and Development Party has strong Islamist roots, also stressed his abhorrence of anti-Semitism, describing it as "a crime against humanity" and vowing to continue the fight against it.

"We welcome a
Turkish role in the peace process and, indeed, we welcome any Turkish role that can bring Israel back to the negotiations table, the peace process
and the road map"

Samir Hlaila,
Secretary-General of Palestinian cabinet

Earlier, Erdogan paid his respects to the victims of the Nazi Holocaust at Jerusalem's Yad Vashem memorial on Sunday, although he raised eyebrows by refusing to follow protocol and put on a kippa, or traditional Jewish prayer cap.

And during a meeting with Israeli President Moshe Katsav, Erdogan stressed the need for cooperation in the fight against terror.

Katsav echoed his comments, saying: "Turkey and Israel must cooperate for the sake of all the people in the Middle East region."

Palestinian reaction

In an interview to Aljazeera on Monday, Samir Hleileh, secretary-general of the Palestinian cabinet, elaborated on Palestinian expectations from Erdogan's visit.

"We welcome this important visit by the leader of a big regional actor," Hleileh said. "We welcome a Turkish role in the peace process and, indeed, we welcome any Turkish role that can bring Israel back to the negotiations table, the peace process and the road map."

Sharon has accepted Erdogan's
invitation to visit Turkey

Hleileh said there are issues of mutual interest in economic and other spheres, but what is most important is that Turkey is seeking a significant role to help all sides in the peace process.

"We do not reject any effort at international intervention in the peace process," he said.

"We have welcomed Russian President Vladimir Putin's role during his recent visit and we welcome any active European role or any intervention by any member of the international Quartet," he said.

Asked for his reaction on Sharon's announcement of expansion of Israeli-Turkish intelligence cooperation, Hleileh said: "We are against international terrorism and we support the peace process and the return to negotiations."