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Turkish Prime Minister Strongly Criticizes Israel - 2004-06-03


Israel has received more stinging criticism from its only Muslim ally, Turkey. In an interview, published Thursday in a major Israeli newspaper, Turkey's prime minister accuses Israel of treating Palestinians the same way Jews were treated 500 years ago, when they were persecuted and driven out of Spain.

It is unusually harsh criticism, especially coming from a close ally.

In an interview with the daily Haaretz newspaper, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey hoped to use its traditional role in the Middle East and its close ties to Israel to act as mediator and advance peace efforts. But, he said the Israeli government has not contributed to peace.

For the second time in just over a week, Mr. Erdogan likened Israeli actions against the Palestinians to what he called state terrorism. When asked about this in the interview, the Turkish Prime Minister cited Israel's targeted assassinations of Palestinian militant leaders and said, how else can you interpret it.

Turkey and Israel have close military and economic ties, and last week they concluded an $800 million deal to build natural gas power stations in Israel. Israel's Infrastructure Minister Joseph Paritzky was in Ankara for the signing of the agreement and was treated to some harsh criticism from Mr. Erdogan at that time.

Turkish media reported that the prime minister told Mr. Paritzky that Turkey was becoming increasingly concerned about Israel's actions in the Palestinian territories, especially its military offensive in the Gaza Strip at the time, which left more than 40 Palestinians dead and hundreds homeless. Mr. Erdogan reportedly told the visiting Israeli minister that one cannot fight terrorism with terrorism.

In Thursday's Haaretz interview, Mr. Erdogan said Israel is today treating the Palestinians the same way Jews were treated 500 years ago when they were persecuted and driven out of Spain during the Inquisition. He specifically criticized the use of helicopters to kill civilians and bulldozers to demolish Palestinian homes.

Mr. Erdogan said Turkey has an obligation to speak out -- as a friend and ally of Israel's. He said countries must work together to fight global terrorism. But, he said it is wrong for any country to say, in his words, I am strong and can name anyone I want as a terrorist and kill them.

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