Fuming Turkey sends Israeli ambassador home over Gaza deaths

Eitan Naeh told to ‘return to his country for a period of time’; envoy to Belgium summoned for dressing down for calling all those killed ‘terrorists’

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Israeli ambassador to Ankara Eitan Naeh (L) are seen after Naeh presented his letter of credence to Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara, on December 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) and Israeli ambassador to Ankara Eitan Naeh (L) are seen after Naeh presented his letter of credence to Erdogan at the presidential complex in Ankara, on December 5, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / ADEM ALTAN)

Turkey on Tuesday told the Israeli ambassador to Ankara to temporarily leave the country in protest over deadly violence on the Gaza border in which dozens of Palestinians were killed during Hamas-organized confrontations with Israeli security forces, a Turkish foreign ministry official said.

Ambassador Eitan Naeh was summoned to the foreign ministry and told to “return to his country for a period of time,” said the official, who asked not to be named.

Turkey has also recalled its ambassadors to Israel and the US for consultations on the situation.

Naeh had been in his post only since December 2016 after a reconciliation deal earlier that year ended a dispute over the storming of a Turkish ship by Israeli commandos that saw ties downgraded for around five years.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry declined to comment on the request by Turkey for Naeh to leave the country.

The ministry did confirm reports that Israel’s Ambassador to Belgium, Simona Frankel, was summoned to the foreign ministry in Brussels for a formal dressing down. Israeli ambassadors to Ireland and South Africa have also received such summons.

Belgian leaders expressed anger over an interview in which Frankel indicated that all Palestinians killed in Monday’s violence were “terrorists.”

Prime Minister Charles Michel said he was “shocked” by the interview with RTBF in Frankel said that those who died in Monday’s clashes “are terrorists, 55 terrorists.”

Foreign Minister Didier Reynders said that “the comment that consisted of saying that all killed or hurt were terrorists — that we can obviously not accept.”

He also took offense at the Frankel’s comment that Israeli soldiers had to act before their were casualties on their side.

“There were two statements I could not accept: One on proportionality of force by saying they could not wait for Israeli casualties — there were none,” he said.

Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry said that 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 were wounded the day before amid the biggest riots and rallies in a weeks-long campaign of protests against Israel, known collectively as the “March of Return.”

The IDF said Tuesday 24 of those killed belonged to terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

Ankara reacted with fury to the Monday clashes which came on the same day the United States formally moved its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv in defiance of international criticism.

Palestinians carry an injured man who was shot by Israeli troops during a deadly protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Slamming the Israeli response, Erdogan said Monday that Israel is a “a terror state” that has committed “a genocide.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back on Tuesday, saying that as prime supporter of Hamas, the Turkish leader was himself involved in “terrorism and slaughter.”

Following Netanyahu’s comments, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim urged Islamic countries to review their ties with Israel and said Ankara was calling an extraordinary summit of the world’s main pan-Islamic body on Friday.

“Islamic countries should without fail review their relations with Israel,” Yildirim told his ruling party in parliament. “The Islamic world should move as one, with one voice, against this massacre.”

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) as he arrives for a meeting at the Turkish parliament on April 18, 2017 in Ankara. (ADEM ALTAN / AFP)

Yildirim added that Turkey had called an “extraordinary summit” of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) on Friday. Erdogan currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the body.

It was not immediately clear what format the meeting would take or who might attend. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said in parliament that the summit would take place in Istanbul.

In an apparent bid to drum up support for the event, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held telephone talks with around a dozen counterparts from the Islamic world. They included the foreign ministers of Jordan, Indonesia and Iran as well as the OIC secretary general Yousef bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen, foreign ministry sources said.

Tens of thousands of Palestinians attended Hamas-organized protests on the Gaza border and hundreds of others clashed with Israeli troops on the outskirts of Jerusalem and in other locations in the West Bank, marking the 70th anniversary of what they call the Nakba, or “catastrophe,” of Israel’s creation in 1948, as well as protesting the relocation of the US embassy to Israel’s capital on Monday afternoon.

Israel has said that Hamas was planning to use the border protests to breach the fence and carry out attacks in Israeli territory. It had warned that it would stop a possible border breach at all costs, telling protesters that they were putting their own lives in peril.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan answers questions after giving a speech at Chatham house in central London on May 14, 2018. (Adrian DENNIS/AFP)

Speaking to Turkish students in London in a speech broadcast by state television Erdogan, whom Israel has accused of providing aid to Hamas, said Monday that “Israel is wreaking state terror. Israel is a terror state. What Israel has done is a genocide. I condemn this humanitarian drama, the genocide, from whichever side it comes, Israel or America.”

The Turkish president has positioned himself as a defender of the Palestinians and harshly criticized the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its relocation of its embassy to the city, saying that the move was a violation of international law.

In 2010, 10 Turks were killed in a melee after they attacked IDF troops who boarded a Gaza blockade-busting ship.

Raphael Ahren and agencies contributed to this report.

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