Erdogan called Israel "Occupier and War Criminal", Israeli Diplomats are Leaving Turkey

World | October 29, 2023, Sunday // 07:32|  views

A day before the 100th anniversary of the Republic of Turkey, Istanbul's old airport saw perhaps the world's largest rally in defense of the Palestinians, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan called Israel an occupier and a perpetrator of war crimes for three weeks.

Reiterating his already-known position was seen primarily as a gesture to his sympathizers in Islamist circles in Turkey, but Israel reacted immediately. Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said he was recalling the country's diplomatic representatives in Turkey "to reassess Israeli-Turkish relations." The ambassador in Ankara is Irit Lillian, who arrived at the post after a mission as ambassador in Bulgaria.

Erdogan spoke to a crowd of hundreds of thousands of people, many waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. In an hour-long speech, he repeated his claim that Hamas is not a terrorist organization while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is a terrorist and described Israel as an occupier. Part of the roots of his Justice and Development Party are in the Islamic Brotherhood organization, from which Hamas also originates.

"Israel has been openly committing war crimes for 22 days, but Western leaders cannot even call for a ceasefire, let alone respond to it," he said. "We will tell the whole world that Israel is a war criminal. We are preparing for this. We will declare Israel a war criminal," he said.

Turkey condemned the loss of Israeli civilians in the October 7 Hamas attack in southern Israel that killed 1,400 people. But Erdogan this week called the militant groups Palestinian "freedom fighters", even though they are designated as terrorist organizations in a number of Turkey's partner countries.

He also criticized the unconditional support of some Western countries for Israel, drawing a sharp rebuke from Italy and Israel, Reuters recalls.

Unlike many NATO allies, the European Union and some Gulf states, Turkey does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization. It has long housed some of its members and leaders, supports a two-state solution for Jews and Palestinians, and has offered to play a role in negotiating the release of hostages kidnapped by Hamas during the October 7 attack.

Political analysts said Erdogan wanted to heighten his criticism of Israel's bombing of the Gaza Strip and overshadow Sunday's celebrations commemorating the secular roots of modern Turkey.

Sinan Ülgen, a former Turkish diplomat and director of the Istanbul-based non-governmental Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, said the worsening humanitarian crisis in Gaza and pressure from political allies had prompted Erdogan to sharpen his rhetoric.

Turkey "will defend its principles and share them with the international community, but it should do so more delicately if it expects to play such a diplomatic role," Yulgen said.

Leaders of allied nationalist and Islamist parties that helped Erdogan win elections in May attended the rally at Istanbul's old airport. Erdogan criticized opposition parties for not calling Netanyahu a "terrorist" and for using the same term for Hamas.

Erdogan had invited all Turks to attend the rally, where he said "only our flag and the flag of Palestine will fly". His Islamist-rooted party expected more than a million people to come.

The 100th anniversary of modern Turkey comes on Sunday, when newspaper headlines are likely to be dominated by news of Saturday's rally rather than celebrations of the republic's founder Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, analysts say.

Erdogan, Turkey's longest-serving leader, and his party have reduced support for the Western-oriented ideals of Atatürk, who is revered by most Turks. In recent years, portraits of Erdogan have appeared alongside those of Atatürk on government buildings and schools.

"The symbolism is clear and no one in Turkey is under any illusions about it - that the pro-Palestinian rally is likely to overshadow the centennial celebrations of the secular republic," said Asli Aydintasbas, a visiting scholar at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.

She said that while Erdogan's comments about Hamas reflected Ankara's long-standing position, he aimed to capitalize on anti-Israel sentiment in the country and "consolidate Sunni conservatives in Turkey."

The government said the Israel-Hamas conflict would not curtail the 100th anniversary celebrations, for which it has organized events across the country.

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Tags: Erdogan, turkey, Israel, Hamas


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