The prime minister of Turkey, Israel’s closest ally in the Middle East, has accused Ariel Sharon of “state terrorism” against Palestinians and likened their treatment to that of Jews under the Spanish inquisition.Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s comments to the Israeli newspaper, Ha’aretz, come after an international outcry over the killing of about 60 Palestinians, including many civilians and children, in last month’s military assault on Rafah in Gaza.
The army was also responsible for the widespread destruction of Palestinian houses in Rafah, which left about 1,600 people homeless. Yesterday, the military continued the demolitions, with more than 40 homes destroyed in Rafah camp this week.
Ha’aretz asked Mr Erdogan – who recently defined three kinds of terrorism: personal, institutional and state – if he believed Israel was practising “state terrorism.” He replied: “When you look at the structure of what has happened, how else can you interpret it?”
Mr Erdogan noted that Turkey had welcomed Jews driven out of Spain by the inquisition.
“Jews were the victims at that time. Today, the Palestinians are the victims, and unfortunately the people of Israel are treating the Palestinians as they were treated 500 years ago. Bombing people – civilians – from helicopters, killing people without any considerations – children, women, the elderly – razing their buildings with bulldozers.”
Turkey has long had close relations with Israel, including military and intelligence cooperation. In recent years Israeli arms manufacturers have sold hundreds of millions of dollars worth of weapons to Turkey, and the two countries agreed a multibillion dollar deal to ship water to the Jewish state.
The Israeli government was shaken last week by press reports that Mr Erdogan had instructed Turkey’s security establishment not to sign new weapons contracts and to scale down military and intelligence cooperation.
The government in Ankara has previously been critical of the Israeli assassinations of Sheikh Ahmed Yassin and other Hamas leaders in Gaza, and said it believed Mr Sharon was not interested in a negotiated peace.
Mr Erdogan reiterated the point yesterday. “We are in favour of the peace process being regenerated, and the gov ernment of Israel has not contributed to our efforts to do so.”
The Israeli government did not respond directly to the comments. But the foreign ministry referred to a statement it issued this week after Mr Erdogan met the Israeli infrastructure minister, Joseph Paritzky, and asked what the difference wasbetween Palestinians who kill Israeli civilians and the Israeli army, which also kills civilians.
The foreign ministry described those remarks as unfortunate. “The blame for the standstill in the peace process can be placed squarely at the door of the Palestinian terrorist organisations, whose murderous actions have taken the lives of over 900 innocent Israelis in the last three and a half years,” it said.
“Turkey, a state that has itself suffered for many years from the cruel effects of terrorism, could be expected to show more understanding and solidarity for Israel’s struggle to defend itself.”