Israel expels Turkish consul in Jerusalem after Ankara boots Israel’s ambassador

Israel expels Turkish consul in Jerusalem after Ankara boots Israel’s ambassador

Move to oust diplomat dealing with Palestinians considered extremely rare, follows Ankara’s request that Israel’s envoy leave and as Erdogan and Netanyahu spar over Gaza violence

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Protesters hold an effigy of US President Donald Trump as they shout slogans in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on May 15, 2018. (AFP  / ILYAS AKENGIN)
Protesters hold an effigy of US President Donald Trump as they shout slogans in Diyarbakir, Turkey, on May 15, 2018. (AFP / ILYAS AKENGIN)

Israel expelled Turkey’s consul to Jerusalem on Tuesday, as diplomatic tensions between Jerusalem and Ankara over deadly clashes on the Gaza border a day earlier spiraled to a fresh nadir.

The move came after Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and amid a harsh verbal back and forth between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Consul-General Hüsnü Gürcan Türkoğlu, who represents Turkey to the Palestinian Authority, was summoned to the Israeli Foreign Ministry and told to leave the country. The move was extraordinary in that Israel rarely interacts with foreign diplomats dealing exclusively with the Palestinians.

Head of Protocol Meron Ruben told Türkoğlu that he was “requested to return to his country for consultation for a certain period of time,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.

A veteran diplomat, Nahshon said he could not recall a precedent in which Israel kicked out a senior diplomat who deals with the Palestinians.

Jerusalem’s language mirrored that used by Turkey in requesting that Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Eitan Na’eh, 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.

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

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 60 Palestinians were killed and over 2,700 more injured in Monday’s clashes along the border.

The IDF said Tuesday that at least 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, Erdoğan said Monday that Israel is “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.”

Erdoğan, in a rare post in English to his personal Twitter account, retorted that “Netanyahu is the PM of an apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people’s lands for 60+ yrs in violation of UN resolutions. He has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey”

The Turkish president added, “Want a lesson in humanity? Read the 10 commandments.”

Netanyahu had said, in a statement posted on his various social media accounts, that Erdoğan is a key supported of Hamas, hence “there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest that he not preach morality to us.”

“A man who sends thousands of Turkish soldiers to maintain the occupation of Northern Cyprus and invades Syria will preach to us as we defend ourselves from infiltration attempt by Hamas,” he added in an official statement. “A man whose hands are stained with the blood of countless Kurdish citizens in Turkey and Syria is the last to preach to us about military ethics.”

The spat was the latest between the two firebrand leaders to threaten shaky relations between the countries, re-established only recently after being broken off for several years.

Turkey on Monday evening recalled its ambassador to Israel, Mekin Mustafa Kemal Okem, who arrived in Tel Aviv in late 2016, after his post had been vacant for more than five years.

Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, hands his credentials to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday, December 5, 2016. (courtesy Turkish Presidency)

Na’eh, too, 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 Na’eh to leave the country.

Turkey’s Consulate-General in Jerusalem opened in 1925. Its mission “reflects deep-rooted historical, cultural and humanitarian relations between Turkey and Palestine,” Türkoğlu writes on the mission’s website.

“[The] Palestinian issue has always been at the top of priorities for the Turkish Foreign Policy,” he wrote. “Observing the traces of Turkish cultural existence in the third holiest place, Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as in almost all places of Palestine is a source of pride for a Turkish diplomat,” he went on.

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. Erdoğan 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.

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 Israeli troops who boarded a Gaza blockade-busting ship.

Agencies and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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