In worsening spat, Turkey’s top diplomat calls Netanyahu a ‘cold-blooded killer’

Latest anti-Israel speech by Turkey’s President Erdogan draws retort from Israeli PM, which in turn precipitates flurry of denunciations by Turkish officials

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu leave the Arc de Triomphe after attending commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice ending World War I, November 11, 2018. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu leave the Arc de Triomphe after attending commemorations marking the 100th anniversary of the 11 November 1918 armistice ending World War I, November 11, 2018. (Ludovic Marin/Pool Photo via AP)

In the latest round of a years-long war of words between Israel and Turkey, Ankara’s foreign minister on Sunday called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “a cold-blooded killer of modern times.”

“The occupier which kicks people lying on the ground is easily offended,” Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a Twitter post that included photos of what appear to be a dead Palestinian and a Palestinian being arrested by IDF troops.

“Netanyahu is a cold-blooded killer of modern times, responsible for massacres of thousands of innocent Palestinians, bombing children on beaches. Turkey will never stop exposing the truth,” Cavusoglu insisted.

Cavusoglu’s comments were part of a flurry of angry denunciations of Israel from Turkish officials, a day after an acrimonious exchange between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Netanyahu.

Erdogan, a staunch supporter of the Gaza-ruling terror group Hamas and long a harsh critic of Israel who regularly likens its actions toward the Palestinians to the mass Nazi murder of Jews during the Holocaust, accused Israel of assaulting innocents in a speech Saturday to young Turks at an Istanbul meeting of the Turkey Youth Foundation.

“The Jews in Israel kick people lying on the ground. In fact, Jews don’t kick men but also women and children when they fall on the ground,” he said. “But as Muslims, we’ll confront these people [the Jews] if they have courage to deal with us and we’ll teach them a lesson,” Erdogan added.

Netanyahu responded with a short statement saying, “Erdogan – the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey – should not preach to Israel.”

The short response drew a swift round of vituperation from Turkish officials. Beside Cavusoglu, Erdogan’s spokesman Ibrahim Kalin said on Twitter: “Instead of begging President Erdoğan not to speak out the truth, Netanyahu should end the lawless occupation of Palestinian lands and the brutal oppression of Palestinian people. Bashing Erdoğan or using Kurds as a political chip will not save him from his domestic troubles.”

Turkey’s minister in charge of EU accession talks, Omer Celik, also chimed in, saying, “Netanyahu was very disturbed by our President’s warnings for humanity, for the oppressed. He’s going to be uncomfortable, because the truth won’t stop.”

Israel-Turkey relations have long been tense but reached a new nadir in May in the aftermath of Israel’s response to violent protests on the Gaza border that were inspired by Hamas, and in which dozens of Palestinians were killed.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses Muslim parliamentarians during a meeting on Jerusalem in Istanbul, December 14, 2018 (Presidential Press Service via AP, Pool)

At the time, Erdogan placed the blame for the Gaza deaths squarely on Israel, accusing it of being a “terrorist state” that commits “genocide.” Then too, Erdogan compared Israel’s actions to those of the Nazis.

Turkey later recalled its ambassador from Tel Aviv and expelled Israel’s envoys.

Israel responded in kind, with Netanyahu saying Erdogan “well understands terrorism and slaughter” and should not lecture Israel about military ethics.

Israel expelled Turkey’s consul-general in Jerusalem, who represents Ankara to the Palestinians, while Turkey threatened to sue the Jewish state at the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

Despite reports about Israeli-Turkish backchannel talks trying to restore diplomatic relations, none of the envoys who were recalled have returned to their respective postings.

US forces, accompanied by Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) fighters, drive their armored vehicles near the northern Syrian village of Darbasiyah, on the border with Turkey, April 28, 2017. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

Erdogan’s latest diatribe against Israel comes just days after US President Donald Trump abruptly announced he would withdraw all American troops from Syria, a decision The Associated Press reported he made during a phone call with the Turkish leader. Trump said the roughly 2,000 US soldiers in Syria would be withdrawn as the Islamic State jihadist group had been “beaten,” a claim met with skepticism by many lawmakers and analysts.

Washington’s decision not only has ramifications for the Kurds, who are being trained by US forces, but also for Turkey’s actions in Syria. In the wake of the announcement, Erdogan on Friday vowed to drive out a US-backed Kurdish militia and jihadists from Syria as Kurdish forces there warned that any attack by Ankara could seriously undermine the fight against the Islamic State.

Erdogan suggested Turkey could launch an operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) militia, which Ankara says is a “terrorist offshoot” of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) which has been waging an insurgency against the Turkish state since 1984.

The PKK is blacklisted as a terror group by Turkey and its Western allies.

Fighters from the Kurdish women’s protection units (YPJ) attend the funeral of an Arab fighter of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) in the town of Tal Tamr in the countryside of Syria’s northeastern Hasakeh province on December 21, 2018. (Delil Souleiman/AFP)

“In the coming months we will see an operation aimed at removing the YPG and Daesh (Islamic State) elements on the ground in Syria,” he said in Istanbul.

Erdogan welcomed Trump’s withdrawal decision but said he remained “cautious” because of “past negative experiences,” referring to Ankara’s continued disappointment over the US administration’s failure to stop providing military support to the YPG.

Trump’s declaration has been met with profound concern in Israel, with the US presence in Syria seen as a barrier to Iran’s military efforts there. Israel has repeatedly warned in recent years of Iran’s efforts to establish a military presence in Syria, where it is fighting alongside Russia and its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad.

For Israel, the pullout leaves it without a staunch ally in the fight against Iran in Syria and also potentially opens the door for the Islamic Republic to create a so-called “land bridge” from Iran, through Iraq and Syria, into Lebanon and to the Mediterranean Sea. Until now, American troops have been stationed in northeastern Syria, along the Iraqi border, blocking such a corridor, through which Iran could more easily distribute advanced weapons and technology throughout the region, especially to its Lebanese client Hezbollah.

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