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Turkey reacts to Israel ground operation in Gaza

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan hardened his narrative against Israel after the start of the ground operation in the Gaza Strip.

Following 10 days of airstrikes, Israel launched a ground operation in the Gaza Strip on July 17. Subsequently, not only did Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s initial measured reaction turn sharper, but all four political parties represented in Turkey's parliament uncharacteristically agreed — on a document condemning Israel’s Gaza operation. Protests also took place in front of the Israeli missions in Ankara and Istanbul, which led Israel to reduce to a minimum its diplomatic staff in Turkey.

Erdogan claimed on July 18 that this latest round of escalation did not start with the abduction of the three Israeli teenagers on June 12. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, who arrived in Istanbul on July 18 for a previously scheduled meeting with both his counterpart Abdullah Gul and Erdogan, echoed the same view. Abbas said in a joint news conference with Gul, “This latest round of conflict started with the Palestinian boy being burned to death [July 2].”

Erdogan keeps questioning why Hamas’ rockets do not kill any Israeli or cause damage on Israeli territory. “It is all a lie that Israel has taken these steps in response to this issue about three (Israeli) youngsters. Because Israel is the state that knows best how to kill children,” Erdogan said, accusing Israel of using “state terror” and practicing “genocide." He continued, "I said this before in Davos. 'You know well how to kill children,' I said. Remember they had also shot children back then on the beach; they now again killed kids with bombs on the beach. In my view, humanity’s conscience is not aching. Unfortunately, Israel is continuing to cause the same devastation and use the same disproportionate force.”

Gul also sent a warning to Israel and stated that a cease-fire is the ultimate priority for a lasting peace between the sides. “The violence is escalating. After 60 years of suffering, oppression, occupation, martyrdom, tears (and) misery, the Palestinian people are suffering again in this sacred Ramadan month,” Gul said. “Israeli attacks not only target Palestinian people (in) Gaza, but also the national reconciliation [between Fatah and Hamas] because Israel is the most uneasy with Palestinian unity and reconciliation.”

Abbas agreed and expressed frustration that this devastation hits the Palestinian territories every two years. “Our first priority is the establishment of a cease-fire and an agreement such as the one in 2012 that can last,” Abbas said. “We also aim to speedily help provide humanitarian aid to Palestinians primarily in Gaza. To make this cease-fire last, we aim to negotiate the two-state solution, but we can only get to that point after Israel stops its sea, aerial and ground attacks, so that we can prevent further Palestinian kids’ and innocent civilians’ blood being spilled.”

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said that he has been running a diplomatic marathon, calling the UN Security Council, UN Human Rights Council and Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to an emergency meeting. Davutoglu highlighted his telephone conversation with US Secretary of State John Kerry that lasted almost an hour. “This is the third telephone conversation I'm having with Kerry in the last three-four days,” Davutoglu said. “We need a cease-fire that is not unilateral but one that is negotiated by both sides. The nature of one-sided cease-fires is that the party that starts the attacks can restart it anytime it wishes. This has no place in international law or norm.”

A Turkish parliamentary commission represented by all four political parties in the assembly also agreed on a joint declaration. “We are saddened and concerned with the increasing number of deaths and injured in Gaza as a result of the ground, aerial and naval bombardment, and consider the deaths of primarily women and children as well as innocent civilians as an unacceptable and unforgivable crime against humanity,” the statement read. “This increasing violence makes the chances of peace between Israel and Palestine distant. The recognition of this fact will serve as a new opportunity for peace — not war.”

All in all, the Turkish narrative blames Israel as the ultimate responsible party for the ongoing violence and dispute with the Palestinians without questioning whether there is any responsibility on the side of Hamas. This narrative has certainly not helped save lives before, and will likely not yield fruitful results now. And with that, Erdogan stated on July 18 that as long as he is in power, there is no chance “to have any positive engagement” with Israel, dismissing any potential to normalize relations with the Jewish state.

A group of Turkish parliamentarians both from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also joined the protesters on July 17 in Ankara, chanting slogans in condemnation of the Israeli operation. In Istanbul, the scenes were more disturbing, as some protesters tried to climb up the wall of the Israeli Consulate. In both incidents, the police took the necessary precautions before things got out of control. Yet, Turkey’s political actors agree on condemning Israeli aggression without any reference to Hamas’ provocations — so far. 

Moreover, both Egypt and Israel say Turkey shoulders some blame for Hamas' decision not to agree to the Egyptian cease-fire plan. “If Hamas was going to sign the agreement, and Turkey prevented it from signing it (as a result of misguided recommendations), Turkey bears responsibility in the deaths of Palestinians as well,” an Israeli diplomatic source told Al-Monitor. “Israel also wants this operation to come to a quick end. So all sides should try to help finish it.”

With Turkey having no direct relations with Israel, however, the Erdogan government faces limits in how in can help Palestinians exit this difficult situation.

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