Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan told his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in a phone call on Friday that “the Islamic world should be united against Israel’s attacks in Palestine,” his office said.
The comments come amid spiraling violence in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. set off after clashes between Israeli security forces and Palestinians at the Al-Aqsa Mosque, which sits on the flashpoint Temple Mount site in Jerusalem’s Old City. His call to Israel’s arch-foe Iran likely present a challenge to Jerusalem’s newly restored ties with Ankara
Since the clashes the Hamas terror group, which has close ties with Turkey, has fired dozens of rockets at Israel from the Gaza Strip and bases in neighboring Lebanon, sparking retaliatory air strikes by Israel.
On Tuesday, police said they had entered Al-Aqsa after masked youths barricaded themselves inside the mosque atop the Temple Mount with fireworks, clubs and rocks and refused to come out peacefully. Officers apparently believed the group intended to assault Jews visiting the mount on Passover Eve.
Video of police apparently beating Palestinians in the mosque went viral and sparked outrage across the Muslim world. Police said in response that they had come under direct fire.
“Emphasizing that common sense should prevail to prevent a new spiral of violence, Erdogan said that it would be beneficial to take initiatives to guide all parties to common sense,” the Turkish readout said, without elaborating.
Erdogan also called on Raisi to “jointly continue efforts in international platforms, especially in the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the UN, to preserve the status of holy places,” according to his office.
“Erdogan said it is important to demonstrate unity, particularly in the face of recent acts such as the burning of the holy Quran in European cities,” it added.
The stance represents an apparent shift for Erdogan, who had been leading a policy over the past year that has seen Turkey warm its ties with Israel. During that time though, Turkish officials warned that deteriorations in the Israeli-Palestinian situation would lead to similar trends in Jerusalem-Ankara ties.
And Turkey has warned there could be an impact on ties with Israel after the Al-Aqsa clashes.
“Turkey cannot stay silent in the face of these attacks. Trampling on the Al-Aqsa mosque is our red line,” Erdogan said during a dinner Wednesday for those breaking daytime fasting, a practice for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.
“Palestinians are not alone,” he added.
Erdogan’s comments followed earlier criticism made by his Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu.
“We condemn these attacks,” Cavusoglu said on the margins of a NATO gathering in Brussels.
“Normalisation with Israel has begun, but our commitment cannot be at the expense of the Palestinian cause and our principles,” he added, noting that “these attacks have exceeded the limit.”
Israel has been trying to mitigate the impact of the clashes on ties with Turkey, and Arab nations.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen spoke with Cavusoglu earlier Friday.
“As part of the intensive activity of Foreign Minister Eli Cohen with his colleagues in the Middle East and around the world, Minister Cohen spoke by phone today with the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in order to calm tensions and send a message to the Hamas terror organization that Israel will respond strongly to the continuation of terrorism and violence,” the Foreign Ministry said.
Hamas is known to have close ties with the Turkish government, which has long hosted officials from the terror group on its soil; and Israel often uses that relationship to pass along messages to Hamas.
“Israel will respond strongly to any attempt to harm Israeli citizens; Hamas is responsible for the latest round of escalation — on the Temple Mount, in Gaza and in Lebanon — and Hamas will pay the price for recent events; Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount and to freedom of worship in Jerusalem for all religions,” the ministry said.
Hebrew media reported that President Isaac Herzog was also trying to schedule a call with Erdogan, that would likely be held on Saturday.
Herzog played a key role in helping restore ties between Jerusalem and Ankara, with his visit to Turkey last year paving the way for the return of ambassadors.
Once robust regional allies, Israel and Turkey saw their ties fray during Erdogan’s tenure. He has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians.
The countries reciprocally withdrew their ambassadors in 2010 after Israeli forces were attacked when they boarded a Gaza-bound flotilla carrying humanitarian aid for the Palestinians that attempted to break an Israeli blockade, and killed 10 Turkish citizens in the altercation.
Relations slowly improved but broke down again in 2018, after Turkey, angered by the United States moving its embassy to Jerusalem, once more recalled its envoy from Israel, prompting Israel to reciprocate.
However, Erdogan has changed his tone in recent years, leading to the restoration of full diplomatic ties.
Erdogan has likely been seeking to thaw relations with Israel to reduce Turkey’s growing political and economic isolation. The Turkish currency has plummeted in recent years, leaving Turkey in economic turmoil with an election slated for 2023.
The Temple Mount has long been a flashpoint for Mideast Violence and the clashes raised fears of a wider conflagration. Similar clashes two years ago erupted into a bloody 11-day war between Israel and Hamas.
The Temple Mount is revered by Jews as the historic location of the two Jewish Temples, making it Judaism’s holiest site, It is also the third-holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound or the Noble Sanctuary.
Agencies contributed to this report