Turkey orders Israeli envoy out, Erdogan slams 'apartheid state'

Istanbul (AFP) –


Turkey on Tuesday ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israel was an "apartheid state" as the killing of dozens of Palestinians threatened a 2016 reconciliation deal.

Ambassador Eitan Naeh was summoned to the Turkish foreign ministry and told to "return to his country for a period of time", said a foreign ministry official, who asked not to be named.

In a growing crisis over Monday's killing of 60 Palestinians by Israeli forces on the Gaza border, Israel responded by ordering the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave for an unspecified period of time, its foreign ministry said.

Naeh had been in his post only since December 2016 after a reconciliation deal earlier that year ended a dispute over the May 2010 deadly storming of a Turkish ship by Israeli commandos that saw ties downgraded for over half a decade.

That deal was strongly backed by the United States, which was keen to see Israel make up with one of its very few key Muslim partners.

Turkey had already called back its ambassador to Tel Aviv -- as well as the envoy to Washington -- for consultations over the bloodshed.

Ankara has reacted with fury to the killings, which came on the same day as the US formally moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.

- 'Blood of Palestinians' -

Erdogan, currently on a visit to Britain, had on Monday stepped up his rhetoric, accusing Israel of "state terror" and "genocide" over the killings.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back at Erdogan, saying that as a leading supporter of Palestinian Islamist group Hamas "there's no doubt he's an expert on terror and slaughter."

Responding to the Israel premier on Twitter, Erdogan further sharpened his language, saying "Netanyahu is the PM of an apartheid state that has occupied a defenceless people's lands for 60+ yrs in violation of UN resolutions."

"He has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can't cover up crimes by attacking Turkey," Erdogan added.

At talks with British Premier Theresa May, Erdogan said the United States had "paved the way... and laid the foundations" for the killings with its embassy move.

- 'Islamic summit Friday' -

While Turkey under Erdogan has never completely severed ties with Israel, the Turkish strongman has also never shied away from the strongest criticism.

He famously walked out of a January 2009 debate in Davos with then Israeli president Shimon Peres, complaining he was not given enough time to respond and repeatedly saying "one minute".

Turkey on Tuesday began observing three days national mourning declared by Erdogan for the Palestinian dead, with flags flying at half mast and cultural events cancelled.

Prime Minister Binali Yildirim had earlier urged Islamic countries to review their ties with Israel and said Ankara was calling an extraordinary summit of the world's main pan-Islamic body, the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), on Friday.

"The Islamic world should move as one, with one voice, against this massacre," he added.

In a possible bid to rally support for the summit, Erdogan spoke by telephone to Jordan's King Abdullah and Malaysia's 92-year-old new leader Mahathir Mohamad.

- 'Stop the Oppression' -

Erdogan regards himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause and last year hosted an OIC summit in Istanbul to denounce US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as Israel's capital.

The summit declared East Jerusalem -- which the international community regards as annexed by Israel -- "as the capital of the State of Palestine" and urged the world to follow suit.

Yildirim said after Friday's summit a giant rally would be held at the vast Yenikapi meeting area in Istanbul under the slogan of "Stop the Oppression" to express solidarity with the Palestinians.

Hundreds of people also held protests for a second day in Istanbul and Ankara against Israel's actions with slogans including "Jerusalem is the capital of Palestine", AFP correspondents said.

The demonstrations in Turkey passed off peacefully, although one man was arrested in Ankara for throwing eggs and stones at the residence of the Israeli ambassador.