'Jerusalem belongs to us, is capital of Islam' -- protester

Thousands mass at anti-Israel, pro-Palestinian rally called by Erdogan

Turkey’s pro-Hamas president said to address huge demonstration, also hosting OIC gathering to send ‘strong message to the world’ against Israel

People hold a banner reading 'Long live Palestine-Islam resistance' during an anti-Israel demonstration on May 18, 2018, in front of the Hacibayram mosque in Ankara. (AFP/Adem Altan)
People hold a banner reading 'Long live Palestine-Islam resistance' during an anti-Israel demonstration on May 18, 2018, in front of the Hacibayram mosque in Ankara. (AFP/Adem Altan)

ISTANBUL, Turkey (AFP) — Thousands of people on Friday massed in Istanbul for a rally called by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to show solidarity with the Palestinians and condemn Israel after its deadly shootings of Gaza protesters.

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.

The rally came hours ahead of an extraordinary summit meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) also called by Erdogan to denounce Israel’s actions and the moving of the US embassy for Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

Demonstrators held Palestinian and Turkish flags and brandished slogans including “Jerusalem is our red line.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan hosts representatives of the rabidly anti-Zionist group Neturei Karta in London, May 15, 2018 (Twitter)

Some of the leaders and ministers set to attend the summit were present at the rally, including Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah.

“We are calling on the world and say ‘Israel, America and Zionism, you all dragged humanity into chaos’,” said protestor Levent Ayaz.

“With God’s permission, Jerusalem belongs to us and is the capital of Islam as long as this ummah (Islamic community) exists,” he added.

“There is no political view here, there is no right, there’s no left,” said fellow demonstrator Recep Kerven.

“The only reason we are here is to support our (Palestinian) brothers. That’s a message delivered to the entire world.”

Many in the international community have criticized Israel for the deaths this week on the Gaza border, although the IDF and Hamas itself have noted that most of the dead were Hamas members. A Hamas official, Salah Bardawil, said Wednesday that 50 of the 62 fatalities were Hamas members; 3 others were from the rival Islamic Jihad terror group

Hamas’s Salah Bardawil (right) acknowledges 50 Hamas fatalities among the 62 killed on Israel-Gaza border, May 16, 2018 (Screenshot)

Erdogan, a relentless critic of Israel and supporter of Hamas who is in the middle of an election campaign in Turkey, has reacted with unbridled fury to the 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.

Erdogan hosted an extraordinary meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in December last year to denounce US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

He vowed that Friday’s summit would send a “strong message to the world” over Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians.

However, as in the 2017 meeting, disputes between the OIC’s key players — notably between Sunni kingpin Saudi Arabia and Shiite Iran — may prevent the adoption of any measures going beyond harsh rhetoric.

Riyadh — which appears to have softened its stance on Israel amid its regional power struggle with Iran and as the influence of powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has grown — and its allies fear alienating the United States with tough measures against Israel.

Saudi Arabia’s chief foreign policy preoccupation, shared with Israel, is ensuring US backing to contain Iran which both Riyadh and the Jewish state see as the main threat to regional peace.

‘Dragged into chaos’

After only declaring his intention to hold the event on Monday, Erdogan has managed to build up an impressive guest list at short notice in intense phone diplomacy.

Jordanian King Abdullah II will be present. The Palestinians will be represented by Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and not President Mahmoud Abbas who this week had surgery on his ear.

From the Gulf, Kuwait’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad Al-Sabah is expected, as is Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani of Qatar, Turkey’s main regional ally.

As in the November 2017 meeting, a controversial guest will be Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted on charges of genocide and war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Egypt and Saudi Arabia distrust Turkey’s support for Islamist movements like the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas, complicating any effort to take concrete measures against Israel.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry and Saudi counterpart Adel al-Jubeir will be at the Istanbul summit. The Saudi level of representation is higher than at the November meeting.

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.

“If the silence on Israel’s tyranny continues, the world will rapidly be dragged into a chaos where banditry prevails,” Erdogan said Wednesday.

‘Stop the oppression’

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 Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu who he accused of having “the blood of Palestinians” on his hands, while Netanyahu in return accused him of supporting Hamas and being a proponent of “massacres and terror.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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