A summit in Istanbul of Muslim heads of state on Friday urged the creation of an international force to protect the Palestinians, as host Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused Israel of “brutality” comparable to the Nazis.
The 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) — seeking to bridge severe differences within the Muslim world — claimed in a final communique that Israel had carried out the “wilful murder” of some 60 Palestinians on the Gaza border during Monday’s violent clashes there.
It called “for the international protection of the Palestinian population, including through dispatching of an international protection force.”
Erdogan said sending such an “international peacekeeping force” was essential to help the Palestinians and stop the international community being a “spectator to massacres.” He compared such a force to the UN forces sent to deal with the aftermath of the Balkan wars in Bosnia and Kosovo.
Many in the international community have criticized Israel for the deaths, while the IDF and Hamas have both noted that many of the dead were members of Gazan terror groups. A Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, said Wednesday that 50 of the fatalities were Hamas members.
The OIC call echoed that by Kuwait, the Arab representative on the UN Security Council, which on Friday called to deploy an international force in Gaza to protect civilians.
A draft resolution circulated by the Arab nation demanded that Israel “immediately cease its military reprisals, collective punishment and unlawful use of force against civilians, including in the Gaza Strip.”
No date was set for the draft to be put to a vote. Israel has rejected the resolution’s demands, with Ambassador Danny Danon saying “The cynicism and attempts to distort reality have reached a new low. Israel will continue to defend its sovereignty and the security of its citizens against the terror and murderous violence of Hamas.”
The United States has defended Israel’s actions in Gaza and will very likely veto the resolution if it is put to a vote.
The OIC’s statement also angrily lashed out at the United States, saying that Washington was complicit in the “crimes” of Israel and “emboldened” its government by moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Erdogan, who supports the Hamas terror group that rules Gaza, has long been one of the fiercest critics of Israel and has raised the level of rhetoric in recent weeks. On Friday he also organized tens of thousands to rally against Israel in Istanbul.
The Turkish leader, who is in the middle of an election campaign, has reacted with unbridled fury to the Gaza deaths, accusing Israel of “genocide,” calling it a “terror state,” and saying it was run as an “apartheid state.”
His comments sparked a diplomatic crisis between Turkey and Israel.
Speaking at the opening of the summit, Erdogan compared Israel’s actions against the Palestinians in Gaza to the Nazi genocide of the Jews in the Holocaust during World War II.
“There is no difference between the atrocity faced by the Jewish people in Europe 75 years ago and the brutality that our Gaza brothers are subjected to,” he said, accusing Israel of using methods “similar to the Nazis.”
“I will say openly and clearly that what Israel is doing is banditry, brutality and state terror,” he said.
Six million Jews were killed by the Nazis during World War II in the Holocaust, many perishing in gas chambers and death camps.
Erdogan had earlier told the mass rally in Istanbul that as the victims of the Holocaust, the Jewish people of Israel should stop their government’s actions against the Palestinians.
“We believe a people who were victims of the Holocaust will not give consent to the crime against humanity committed by their own state,” he said.
Large crowds thronged the massive Yenikapi meeting area on the shores of the sea of Marmara under the slogan “Curse the oppression, support Jerusalem,” ahead of an address later in the day by Erdogan.
Demonstrators held Palestinian and Turkish flags and brandished slogans including “Jerusalem is our red line.”
Addressing the earlier rally, Prime Minister Binali Yildirim used similar language, saying Israel was “imitating Hitler and Mussolini” by occupying Palestinian territory and disregarding international law.
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah — stepping in for president Mahmoud Abbas who this week had surgery on his ear — told the rally that the US was “trying to provoke a religious conflict in the region” by moving its embassy to Jerusalem.
In his speech, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani criticized “the silence of certain countries” without which “the Zionists would have never attempted such a brutality.”
Erdogan complained that Muslims had too often given a “shy and cowardly” image to their foes and failed to sort out internal disagreements.
Describing the issue of Jerusalem as a “test”, he said: “If we need to speak clearly, the Islamic world failed in the Jerusalem test.”
This is the second emergency OIC meeting Erdogan has hosted in the space of half a year after the December 2017 summit, also in Istanbul, that denounced US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
After only declaring his intention to hold the event on Monday, Erdogan managed to build up an impressive guest list at short notice in intense phone diplomacy.
Jordanian King Abdullah II was present. From the Gulf, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah and Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, Turkey’s main regional ally.
Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir were present but not their heads of state.
Both Cairo and Riyadh are wary of Turkey’s support for the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, as well as its close alliance with Qatar which is currently under a Saudi-led blockade.
Erdogan has long craved a role as a Muslim leader within the entire Islamic world, rarely holding back with tirades against Israel even though Ankara has diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Tensions with Israel and hosting such a meeting also does Erdogan no harm with his core supporters as Turkey heads to presidential and parliamentary polls on June 24.
In a diplomatic crisis threatening a 2016 deal that allowed the resumption of full ties, Turkey has ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave for an unspecified period of time.
Turkey had already withdrawn its Tel Aviv ambassador for consultations while Israel ordered the Turkish consul in Jerusalem to leave, also for an unspecified period of time.
Erdogan has engaged in a bitter Twitter spat with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands, while Netanyahu in return accused him of support Hamas and being a proponent of “massacres and terror.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.