Thursday, February 22, 2024

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey criticized Israel and supported Hamas during a televised address on Wednesday, which is likely to escalate tensions between his government and other NATO members, including the United States.

Speaking in Parliament to lawmakers from his Justice and Development Party, Erdogan accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians in Gaza, resulting in the deaths of numerous children, women, and elderly individuals.

“This picture alone is enough to show that the aim here is not self-defense, but savagery to commit the premeditated act of crime against humanity,” he said.

Erdogan also criticized Western countries for their unwavering support of Israel and labeling Hamas, the armed Palestinian group governing Gaza, as a terrorist organization.

“Hamas is not a terror organization,” he stated. “It is an organization of liberation, of mujahedeen, who fight to protect their land and citizens.”

Erdogan’s remarks contrast sharply with the positions held by Western countries, which have shown strong support for Israel since Hamas carried out an attack in southern Israel on October 7th, resulting in the deaths of over 1,400 individuals, mainly civilians, and taking more than 220 others, both civilians and soldiers, as captives in Gaza.

Even before the said attack, the United States, the European Union, and other countries considered Hamas a terrorist organization.

However, Erdogan’s condemnation of Israel’s response, which includes urging over a million Gazans to seek shelter in the southern half of the enclave and an intense bombing campaign resulting in significant damage to civilian neighborhoods, reflects the sentiment prevalent in certain parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds. According to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry, the Israeli bombardment has claimed the lives of over 6,500 individuals.

Israel has vowed to eliminate Hamas and has been assembling troops on the border of Gaza in preparation for a potential ground invasion. The Israeli military claims to take precautions to avoid civilian casualties but argues that Hamas complicates matters by intermingling its forces with the civilian population.

Turkey’s relationship with Israel has been tumultuous during Erdogan’s two-decade reign as the country’s dominant politician, often stemming from his dissatisfaction with Israel’s treatment of Palestinians.

However, Erdogan recently made efforts to improve relations with Israel.

Last year, Turkey welcomed Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, in Ankara, marking the first visit by an Israeli head of state since 2008. During a separate visit, the Israeli defense minister met with their Turkish counterpart, and both officials expressed the intention to resume working relations.

Mr. Netanyahu meeting with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey in New York last month, in a photo released by the Turkish president’s office.

Credit…
Turkish Presidency Press Office, via Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Last month, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Erdogan met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for the first time, and both leaders agreed to visit each other’s countries, according to Mr. Netanyahu’s office.

On Wednesday, Erdogan announced the cancellation of all plans to visit Israel.

Erdogan has also maintained ties with Hamas. Members of the group frequently visit Turkey, and many of its leaders were in Turkey for meetings when the Hamas attack on Israel occurred on October 7th.

Although Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, Erdogan emphasized that he does not hold any issues with Israel as a country and condemns the killing of civilians in every instance. “We clearly mentioned that we never excuse any acts targeting civilians, including Israeli civilians, regardless of the perpetrator,” he affirmed.

Nevertheless, he accused Israel of assaulting Gaza with a level of brutality that resembles that of an “organization” rather than a state, using a Turkish term regularly employed to describe terrorist groups.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry promptly rejected Erdogan’s comments, stating, “Hamas is a despicable terrorist organization worse than ISIS that brutally and intentionally murders babies, children, women, and the elderly, takes civilians hostage, and uses its own people as human shields,” according to Lior Haiat, a ministry spokesman. Haiat further noted that the Turkish leader’s “inciting words will not change the horrors that the whole world has seen.”

Erdogan’s departure from the Western stance on the Gaza conflict occurs amidst ongoing disagreements with NATO allies concerning Russia. Turkey condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year but has refused to participate in Western sanctions aimed at weakening Russia. Erdogan has also continued to engage with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, often referring to him as “my friend.”

Erdogan criticized the West for applying a double standard, as it has not condemned Israel’s killing of civilians in Gaza to the same extent as it has condemned Russia’s killing of civilians in Ukraine.

Nadav Gavrielov contributed reporting from Seoul.

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