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Israel-Palestine war: Erdogan lashes out at Blinken over sectarian position

'You should approach people as humans' says Turkish president, as he accuses US of exacerbating tensions by sending aircraft carriers to assist Israel
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) talks to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during their meeting at Esenboga airport in Ankara on February 20, 2023. (AFP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (L) with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken during their meeting in Ankara on 20 February 2023 (AFP)
By Ragip Soylu in Istanbul

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan hit out at the United States on Friday for exacerbating tensions between Israel and Palestine by sending an aircraft carrier to the region and using sectarian language.

“Of course, the US sending aircraft carriers to the region unfortunately does not contribute to peace or reduce tensions between the parties,” Erdogan said during televised comments. 

“US Secretary of State [Antony Blinken] says ‘I approach Israel as a Jew, not as a secretary of state.’ What kind of approach is this? If, in response, the people tell you that they would approach the region as a Muslim, what would you say? You should approach people as humans.”

The Turkish president said that cutting off the electricity, water, fuel and food of two million people squeezed into 360 square kilometres in Gaza was a violation by Israel of the most basic human rights.

“Wholesale punishment of the people of Gaza will only exacerbate the problem and cause more pain, more tension, and more tears,” Erdogan said.

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He acknowledged that Turkey had sent a military plane carrying emergency aid, including food, water and medical supplies to Egypt’s El Arish airport, calling on Israel to permit the entrance of aid to Gaza through the Rafah crossing. 

More than 1,500 people in besieged and densely populated Gaza have already been killed by waves of Israeli air strikes that have levelled residential neighbourhoods since Saturday. 

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On Thursday, Israel ordered 1.1 million people in the north of Gaza to move south within 24 hours, ahead of an expected ground assault. Blinken repeated the demand, which the United Nations said was impossible to carry out "without devastating humanitarian consequences".

Israel's military campaign came in response to a surprise multi-front assault by Hamas on Israeli communities on Saturday, in which it fired thousands of rockets and sent fighters into Israel over land, air and sea. More than 1,300 Israelis - many of them civilians and some children - have been killed, and around 130 people taken captive back to Gaza.

Erdogan also criticised the US and UK for not sending aid but deploying aircraft to the region. US officials say they relocated USS Gerald Ford as a deterrence against other regional powers, including Iran, to prevent further escalation. 

Israel-Palestine war: The incendiary rhetoric deployed by Israeli leaders
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The Turkish president has been criticising Washington ever since US forces shot down a Turkish armed drone in northern Syria a week ago. The drone was targeting the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a mostly Kurdish group that Ankara considers a terrorist organisation.

US President Joe Biden extended a national emergency authorisation with regard to Syria on Wednesday, citing Turkey’s 2019 military operation, which "undermines the campaign to defeat Islamic State and endangers civilians and stability” in the country.

US presidents have been renewing the authorisation with the same text every year since 2019, but the Turkish media covered the latest renewal as something entirely new.

“The activities carried out by the US with the PKK's extensions in Syria in this country pose an extraordinary threat to Turkey's national security,” Erdogan said, referring to the armed Kurdistan Workers’ Party and mimicking Biden's signed remarks. 

“Aren't we together with the US in Nato? Did the US shoot down our armed UAV? How can you do such a thing?”

Erdogan added that there was a security problem between Ankara and Washington. “We are determined to root out the terrorist organisation, regardless of who is behind it,” he said, referring indirectly to the US. 

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