Erdogan hosts Islamic summit to back Palestinians, condemn Israel

Erdogan hosts Islamic summit to back Palestinians, condemn Israel

In midst of an election campaign, OIC gathering, and mass rally in Istanbul intended to send a ‘strong message to the world’ against Jewish state

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivers a speech at his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party weekly meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool Photo via AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, delivers a speech at his ruling Justice and Development (AKP) Party weekly meeting in Ankara, Turkey, Tuesday, April 17, 2018. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool Photo via AP)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday hosts for the second time in half a year a summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic group seeking to show solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn Israel after deadly clashes at the Gaza border Monday in which some 60 Palestinians were killed by IDF fire.

Many in the international community have criticized Israel for the deaths, while the IDF and Hamas have claimed, each for its own reasons, that many of the dead were members of Gazan terror groups. A Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, said Wednesday that 50 of the fatalities were Hamas members.

Hamas’s Salah Bardawil (right) acknowledges 50 Hamas fatalities among the 62 killed on Israel-Gaza border, May 16, 2018 (Screenshot)

Erdogan, who is in the middle of an election campaign in Turkey, has reacted with unbridled fury to the deaths, accusing Israel of “genocide,” calling it a “terror state,” and saying it was run as an “apartheid state.”

His comments sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel and Erdogan has also called a mass demonstration that his supporters said was expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people Friday to protest Israel’s actions.

Erdogan has already hosted an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December last year to denounce US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He has already vowed that Friday’s summit would send a “strong message to the world” over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

However, as in the 2017 meeting, disputes between the OIC’s key players — notably between Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran — may prevent the adoption of any measures going beyond harsh rhetoric.

Riyadh — which appears to have softened its stance on Israel amid its regional power struggle with Iran and as the influence of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has grown — and its allies fear alienating the United States with tough measures against Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s chief foreign policy preoccupation, shared with Israel, is ensuring US backing to contain Iran which both Riyadh and the Jewish state see as the main threat to regional peace.

‘Dragged into chaos’

After only declaring his intention to hold the event on Monday, Erdogan has managed to build up an impressive guest list at short notice in intense phone diplomacy.

Jordanian King Abdullah II will be present. The Palestinians will be represented by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and not President Mahmoud Abbas who this week had surgery on his ear.

From the Gulf, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah is expected, as is Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, Turkey’s main regional ally.

As in the November 2017 meeting, a controversial guest will be Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Egypt and Saudi Arabia distrust Turkey’s support for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, complicating any effort to take concrete measures against Israel.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir will be at the Istanbul summit. The Saudi level of representation is higher than at the November meeting.

Erdogan has long craved a role as a Muslim leader within the entire Islamic world, rarely holding back with tirades against Israel even though Ankara has diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.

“If the silence on Israel’s tyranny continues, the world will rapidly be dragged into a chaos where banditry prevails,” Erdogan said Wednesday.

‘Stop the oppression’

Tensions with Israel and hosting such a meeting also does Erdogan no harm with his core supporters as Turkey heads to presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24.

In a diplomatic crisis threatening a 2016 deal that allowed the resumption of full ties, Turkey has ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave for an unspecified period of time.

Turkey had already withdrawn its Tel Aviv ambassador for consultations while Israel ordered the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave, also for an unspecified period of time.

Erdogan has engaged in a bitter Twitter spat with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu who he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands, while Netanyahu in return accused him of support Hamas and being a proponent of “massacres and terror.”

The rally expected just before the summit is set to take place at the vast Yenikapi meeting area which is favored by Erdogan for election rallies and has capacity for a million people.

Erdogan is himself expected to address the rally, which is to be held under the slogan “stop the oppression.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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