ISTANBUL (Reuters) - Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan decried Israeli’s air strikes on Gaza on Friday as a pre-election stunt and said he would discuss the crisis with Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi in Cairo this weekend.
Under Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted AK Party, Turkey has sought to use its clout as a rising democratic power in the Muslim world to increase its influence in the Middle East, distancing itself from former ally Israel.
Erdogan said he would speak by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama later on Friday and that Ankara was also seeking talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin amid the prospect of a full Israeli ground invasion.
The United States says it has asked Turkey and Egypt to encourage the Islamist Hamas movement that rules Gaza to cease rocket fire into Israel, but Erdogan laid the blame for the deepening crisis firmly on the Jewish state.
“Before this election they (Israel) shot these innocent people in Gaza for reasons they fabricated,” he told reporters in Istanbul. “The dominant world powers are now making the Gaza people and fighters pay, and as the Republic of Turkey we are with our brothers in Gaza and their just cause.”
Relations between Turkey - once Israel’s only Muslim ally - and the Jewish state have crumbled since Israeli marines stormed a Gaza-bound aid ship in 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Gaza Strip, killing nine Turks in clashes with activists on board.
This week, two days of relentless Israeli air strikes on Gaza and the drafting of reserve troops have raised fears of a full ground invasion in an attempt to end militant rocket salvoes, a few of which have crashed near Israel’s biggest city Tel Aviv for the first time.
Twenty-two Palestinians have died in the air strikes since Wednesday. Three Israelis were killed by a rocket on Thursday.
The Gaza conflagration has fanned the fires of a Middle East aflame with two years of Arab revolution and a civil war in Syria that threatens to spill beyond its borders.
“I hope (a) decision of the U.N. Security Council and the attitude of the dominant powers will end Israel’s offensive attitude,” Erdogan said.
“We don’t have any relations with Israel left. The countries which have relations with Israel should talk to them.”
Reporting by Seda Sezer; Writing by Matt Robinson; Editing by Nick Tattersall and Mark Heinrich