ANKARA — Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “barbarism that surpasses Hitler” during its ground invasion of Gaza.
Erdogan made the comment during a campaign speech Saturday in the Black Sea port city of Ordu. He is running for the presidency in elections next month.
He has been speaking out strongly against Israel during its offensive against Hamas in Gaza, which has killed more than 300 Palestinians. Hamas has fired some 1,500 rockets at Israel and carried out a series of terrorist infiltrations via tunnels and from the sea in recent days.
Erdogan accuses Israel of using disproportionate force and has said the operation there has derailed efforts to normalize Turkish-Israeli ties. Those soured after Israel’s 2010 raid on a ship seeking to breach Israel’s security blockade on Hamas-run Gaza which killed eight Turks and a Turkish-American.
Hundreds have also staged protests in recent days outside Israeli diplomatic mission in Ankara and Istanbul.
Early Saturday, the Israeli Foreign Ministry issued a travel warning to Israeli citizens against nonessential travel to Turkey. “Given the public atmosphere in Turkey in light of Operation Protective Edge, we are honing our recommendation to avoid visits to the state that aren’t essential,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Israel decided Friday to pull some of its diplomatic staff out of Turkey in the wake of violent protests targeting the buildings of its embassy and consulate in Ankara and Istanbul, an embassy spokesman said, as well as recent statements that accused Israel of attempting a “systematic genocide” on the Palestinian people.
After protests against Operation Protective Edge in front of Israel’s missions in Ankara and Istanbul turned violent Thursday night, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman instructed Israeli diplomats stationed in Turkey to return home.
“It was decided to reduce our diplomatic representation in the country to a possible minimum,” Liberman said in a statement.
The violent protests broke out after previous inciteful speeches by Erdoğan and because the country’s security forces did not properly fulfill their duty to prevent violence during such events, Liberman charged.
On Thursday, Erdoğan had fiercely attacked Israel’s operation against Hamas.
“Since [Israel’s creation] in 1948, we have been witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every day and every month,” he said. “But above all, we are witnessing this attempt at systematic genocide every Ramadan.”
Erdogan said the Israeli operation was derailing Turkish and Israeli efforts to mend ties.
Turkey’s foreign minister also “vehemently” condemned Israel’s ground invasion of Gaza.
On Twitter, Ahmet Davutoglu said the ground operation is testing “the conscience of humanity.”
Davutoglu called for emergency meetings of the UN Security Council, the UN Human Rights Council and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Israel vehemently protested Turkish authorities’ blatant and rude violation of diplomatic rules, including the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, during the protests, Liberman added.
On Thursday night, hundreds of protesters attacked the Israeli consulate in Istanbul, while similar numbers sought to break into the residence of the ambassador in Ankara.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to halt the protests in Istanbul in the early hours of the morning, but in Ankara they stood on the sidelines.
The crowds in Istanbul, waving Palestinian flags, hurled stones and smashed the windows of the consulate in the upscale Levent district to denounce the Israeli military operation.
Rioters in front of the consulate chanted, “Fight! Martyrdom!”
Police pushed the crowd back at times, and many of the ruling AK Party MPs were in the crowd.
AFP contributed to this report.