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In fresh broadside, Erdogan slams Israel’s ‘oppressive’ treatment of Palestinians

Comments by Turkish president come days after he held high-level talks with Israeli leaders to secure the release of Mordy and Natalie Oknin, arrested for photographing his palace

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a media conference at the G20 summit in Rome, on October 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during a media conference at the G20 summit in Rome, on October 31, 2021. (AP Photo/Domenico Stinellis)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday accused Israel of “oppressive” policies vis-à-vis the Palestinians, including the alleged forced displacement of residents in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

“We must work with all our might to preserve the status and sanctity of Jerusalem, the capital of Palestine. The main thing is the establishment of lasting peace and stability on the basis of a two-state solution and established international parameters,” he said in a speech, according to local media reports.

The comments were leveled despite rare high-level conversations between Erdogan and Israeli leaders this month, following the release last week of an Israeli couple, Mordy and Natali Oknin, who had been arrested in Turkey and detained for eight days for photographing Erdogan’s palace.

The government had specifically thanked Erdogan for his role in setting them free and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and President Isaac Herzog both held calls with the Turkish leader.

Erdogan’s personal involvement in securing the couple’s release was seen as a signal of strengthening ties between Turkey and Israel, officials in Turkey told Israel’s Kan public broadcaster last week.

Despite the harsh rhetoric, Erdogan said Wednesday that continued dialogue with Israel was in Turkey’s interest, and called for the resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid speak with Natali and Mordi Oknin after their return to Israel from Turkey, November 18, 2021 (Haim Zach / GPO)

Turkey, once a strong Muslim ally of Israel, has become a geopolitical foe under Erdogan, who in the past regularly leveled harsh attacks against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Israel and Turkey formally ended a six-year diplomatic rift in 2016, but ties remained strained and in May 2018, after violent protests on the Gaza border in which over 60 Palestinians, most of them members of Hamas and other terror groups, were killed, Erdogan placed the blame for the deaths squarely on Israel, calling it a “terrorist state” that commits “genocide.”

Turkey also recalled its ambassador and expelled Israeli ambassador Eitan Na’eh, as well as its consul in Istanbul.

In December 2020, Erdogan said he wished to improve ties with Israel after years of criticism. “Our relations with Israel on intelligence have not ceased anyway, they are still continuing,” Erdogan said during a press conference. “We have some difficulties with the people at the top.”

After US President Joe Biden’s election, Turkey said it would appoint a new ambassador to Israel, in an effort to strengthen ties with Washington.

Agencies contributed to this report.

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