ANKARA (Reuters) - Turkey and Israel expelled each other’s senior diplomats on Tuesday in a dispute over the killing by Israeli forces of 60 Palestinians a day earlier during protests on the Gaza border.
Turkey told Israel’s ambassador to leave the country on Tuesday after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians during protests on the Gaza border against the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem.
Turkey has been one of the most vocal critics of Israel’s response to the Gaza protests and of the U.S. Embassy move, recalling its ambassadors from Tel Aviv and Washington and calling for an emergency meeting of Islamic nations on Friday.
President Tayyip Erdogan described Monday’s bloodshed, the deadliest for Palestinians since the 2014 Gaza conflict, as genocide and called Israel a terrorist state. The government declared three days of mourning.
“The Israeli ambassador was told that our envoy to Israel was called back for consultations, and was informed that it would be appropriate for him to go back to his country for some time,” a Turkish Foreign Ministry source said.
Hours later Israel’s Foreign Ministry said the Turkish Consul-General in Jerusalem had been summoned and told to return to Turkey “for consultations for a period of time.”
The dispute appears to mark the worst diplomatic crisis between the two regional powers since Israeli marines stormed an aid ship to enforce a naval blockade of Gaza in 2010, killing 10 Turkish activists and prompting a downgrade in diplomatic ties that lasted until 2016.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Twitter Erdogan was in no position to “preach morality to us” because he supported the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas which rules Gaza. “There is no doubt he well understands terrorism and slaughter,” Netanyahu tweeted.
Erdogan tweeted back that Netanyahu was the leader of “an apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people’s lands for 60+ years in violation of U.N. resolutions”, adding that he was criticising Turkey to deflect attention.
“Want a lesson in humanity? Read the 10 commandments”.
Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim also said that Muslim countries should review their ties with Israel after Monday’s violence.
There have been demonstrations against Israel in Istanbul and in the capital Ankara. Erdogan, who is campaigning for presidential and parliamentary elections next month, said a rally will be held on Friday to protest the killings.
Turkish government spokesman Bekir Bozdag told parliament the rally “will once again show that the Turkish people will not remain silent in the face of injustice and cruelty, that they defend the victims in the face of the cruel”.
The plight of Palestinians resonates with many Turks, including with the nationalist and religious voters who form the base of Erdogan’s support.
Bozdag said that Turkey held the United States equally accountable for Monday’s violence.
“The blood of innocent Palestinians is on the hands of the United States,” he said. “The United States is part of the problem, not the solution”.
Relations between Ankara and Washington, two NATO allies, have been deeply strained over the embassy move, disagreements over military deployment in north Syria, and court cases against Turkish and U.S. nationals in each country.
Additional reporting by Ece Toksabay in Ankara and Ori Lewis in Jerusalem; Writing by Dominic Evans; Editing by Ece Toksabay