ISTANBUL — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday urged Muslims to defend the Palestinian cause, striking a tough stance on Israel despite improved ties between the two nations.
“It is the common duty of all Muslims to embrace the Palestinian cause and protect Jerusalem,” the president of the majority country told a parliamentary symposium on Jerusalem in Istanbul.
Safeguarding the Al-Aqsa Mosque should not be left to children armed with nothing but stones, he said, in a likely reference to Palestinian youths who sometimes hurl stones at Israeli security forces on the Temple Mount. The Jerusalem hilltop is the third-most sacred site to Muslims and the holiest to Jews, the location of the two biblical temples.
The Turkish leader also criticized Israel’s so-called muezzin bill, a contentious proposal to make mosques reduce the volume of loudspeakers issuing the call to prayer.
His comments came as Israel and Turkey prepared to exchange ambassadors as part of a reconciliation deal to end years of hostility. The once-close allies saw relations take a nosedive over Israeli policy on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, a downturn further exacerbated by a May 2010 IDF raid on a ship intending to break the maritime blockade on Gaza, which left 10 Turkish nationals dead.
Turkey sent firefighting aircraft to help tackle blazes that ravaged areas in Israel over the past week, a contribution that Israeli counterpart Reuven Rivlin personally thanked Erodgan for, in a Monday phone call between the two presidents.
Despite the warming of ties, Erdogan has continued to sharply criticize Israel, including during an interview with Israeli television earlier this month.
Speaking to Channel 2’s Ilana Dayan in Turkish, Erdogan accused Israel of failing to respect the holiness of Jerusalem, accusing it of trying to change the status quo at the Al-Aqsa Mosque.
“Jerusalem is holy to three religions. You have to respect that,” he said.
The Turkish strongman slightly walked back a 2014 assertion that Israel’s military offensive in Gaza was more barbaric than Hitler, but made no apology for invoking the Nazi leader’s name in the context, said he was “well aware” of the sensitivities, and again condemned Israel’s “barbarism” against the Palestinians.
“I don’t agree with what Hitler did and I also don’t agree with what Israel did in Gaza. Therefore there’s no place for comparison in order to say what’s more barbaric,” said Erdogan in the interview (which was translated from Turkish into Hebrew by Channel 2, and thence into English by the Times of Israel), when reminded of his 2014 comments.