Thousands of jubilant supporters gathered at Istanbul airport to welcome their prime minister home on Friday after he publicly confronted the Israeli president over the Gaza war.

The crowd lauded Mr. Erdogan, chanting "We are proud of you and we will always stand with you" as his plane returned him home from the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

'You kill people' Erdogan told Peres

During the forum, Israel's offensive against Hamas erupted into a tense standoff at a panel discussion Thursday, and ended when Mr. Erdogan told Israeli President Shimon Peres: "You kill people," and then walked off the stage.

Addressing the crowd the prime minister was a in defiant mood.

He said "we are going to stand firm but we are not going to get into conflict. We stood firm, and we will continue standing firm. This is what people expect of the Turkish Nation."

Turkish media support PM's decision

Mr. Erdogan's decision to walk out of a debate with Israeli President Shimon Peres is broadly supported in the Turkish media. One newspaper's headline read: "Erdogan Gives Peres a Lesson". Another newspaper referred to it as an "Historical Slap."

On the streets of Istanbul there appears to be widespread support.

"I support the prime minister," one man said. "It is important to speak out about what is happening in the Gaza, as the world has remained silent. He is right [with] what he did."

Many surprised about Turkey-Israel tension

Mr. Erdogan's walkout is the climax to increasingly tough criticism by Turkey of Israel's offensive in Gaza. Earlier this month Mr. Erdogan said Israel would be damned for its actions, accusing it of crimes against humanity. He also called for Israel to be suspended from the United Nations.

Israel and Turkey have traditionally strong ties, and this tough anti-Israel rhetoric surprised much of the international community.

Despite the benefits to Erdogan's popular appeal in Turkey and the Muslim world, his comment appeared to put at risk efforts it has made as a Middle East mediator, analysts say.