ANKARA – Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday stepped up his rhetoric against Israel over its deadly air offensive on Gaza, accusing the Jewish state of committing state terrorism against the Palestinians.
Presenting himself as the sole world leader speaking up for the Palestinians, Erdogan said that any normalisation in the troubled ties between Israel and Ankara was currently out of the question. "Israel is continuing to carry out state terrorism in the region. Nobody, except us, tells it to stop," Erdogan told members of his ruling party in parliament, accusing Israel of perpetrating a massacre of Palestinians.
"To what extent will the world remain silent to this state terrorism?" Supporters from his Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party (AKP) often interrupted his address by shouting slogans like: Murderer Israel!. Erdogan also lashed out at Israeli lawmaker Ayelet Shaked of the far-right Jewish Home party who posted controversial remarks on social media suggesting the Palestinians deserved to die.
"What's the difference between this mentality and that of Hitler?" Erdogan said. His comments came after a week of the deadliest violence in the Gaza Strip for years which has claimed at least Palestinian 192 lives, sparking international condemnation. Israel on Tuesday accepted an Egyptian proposal for a ceasefire, although the Islamist Hamas movement rejected the US-backed truce.
Erdogan welcomed the ceasefire proposal as very positive and precious, saying he hopes it is secured. "But it appears that the blood of innocent Palestinian children is being exploited once again in the dirty politics of the Middle East," he added. Turkey has stepped up its diplomatic efforts to secure a ceasefire, although its poor current relations with Israel would make it an improbable mediator in the conflict.
Qatar's Foreign Minister Khalid al-Attiyah will meet Turkish leaders in Ankara on Tuesday and Erdogan is due to host Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas in Turkey for talks on Friday, according to Turkish diplomats. Erdogan is holding regular talks on the phone with Abbas and Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal but no contacts have been made with Israel so far, a Turkish official told AFP.
"Concrete steps can only be taken after Israel stops its assault on Gaza," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. Ties between Israel and Turkey hit a low after Israeli marines stormed a Gaza-bound Turkish ship in 2010 while in international waters. Ten Turks have died since the attack. Encouraged by the United States, there had been progress toward a normalisation of ties between the former allies.
But Erdogan said relations will remain frosty as long as Israel continues its offensive against Gaza. "The Israeli state must know that it is out of the question to normalise our relations if those massacres continue," he said. Erdogan sees himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and is also keen to underline his credentials as a global Muslim leader ahead of August 10 presidential elections in which he is standing.
"You are no longer alone and will never be," said Erdogan, referring to the Palestinians. Until the rise to power of Erdogan's AKP, NATO member Turkey was seen as Israel's key ally in the Islamic world and Middle East.