Turkish PM hailed as hero after Gaza war debate

31st January 2009, Comments 0 comments

PM made the front page of newspapers across Europe and the Middle East after storming out of a debate on the Gaza war on Thursday.

Ankara -- Thousands of supporters mobbed Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan while the Palestinian Hamas movement hailed his "courageous stand" Friday after he stormed out of a debate on the Gaza war with Israel's president.

Meanwhile, the Turkish presidency announced that Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas will make a one-day visit to Ankara next week to discuss with President Abdullah Gul "all aspects of the Palestinian problem, including efforts to secure unity among Palestinian groups."

The exact day of the visit is not currently known, with one Gul aide saying it could take place on Monday and the Anatolia news agency quoting diplomatic sources as saying it is scheduled for February 7.

Jubilant followers of Erdogan waved Turkish and Palestinian flags as he arrived at the Istanbul airport just hours after marching off the stage in front of Israeli President Shimon Peres and UN chief Ban Ki-moon at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Thursday night.

As Erdogan made the front page of newspapers across Europe and the Middle East, Peres's office rejected claims by Turkish officials that the Israeli president had apologized.

Turkey is usually one of Israel's rare allies in the Muslim world but Erdogan has been a fierce critic of the Jewish state's 22-day military onslaught on Hamas-ruled Gaza that left more than 1,300 Palestinians dead.

Erdogan complained that Peres had been given more time to speak than other members of the Davos panel discussing the Gaza war.

Erdogan also criticized the international audience for applauding the veteran Israeli leader's emotional defense of the offensive aimed at halting Hamas rocket attacks.

Peres, a Nobel peace prize winner, said Israel had no choice and, pointing his finger at a visibly agitated Erdogan, said the prime minister would have done the same if rockets fell on Istanbul every night.

The Islamist-rooted Turkish leader, who has sought a peacemaker's role in the Middle East conflict, said Israel has carried out "barbarian" actions in Gaza before he marched off.

Back in Istanbul he was unapologetic over his actions.

"I did what I had to do," he told reporters at the airport. "I cannot remain apathetic when it comes to these things, it's just not in my nature. I am duty-bound to defend the honor of my country."

Erdogan said he was not "at heart a diplomat but a politician".

Hamas, which has maintained contacts with Turkish leaders even though it is listed as a terrorist organization by much of the West, hailed Erdogan.

"Hamas pays tribute to the courageous stand of Turkey's prime minister ... who in Davos directly defended the victims of the criminal Zionist war against our children and women in Gaza," said spokesman Fawzi Barhum. "We consider his departure from the room an expression of support for the victims of the Holocaust carried out by the Zionists."

Erdogan also made headlines across the Middle East.

The United Arab Emirates' Al-Khaleej newspaper ran a front-page story saying Erdogan left the stage after he "exposed the Israeli Holocaust in Gaza and defended the Palestinians."

Turkey's Anatolia news agency quoted Erdogan's entourage as saying Peres apologized when he spoke with Erdogan after the incident.

"This claim is untrue," said Israeli presidency spokeswoman Ayelet Frish, adding that the two leaders had "a friendly conversation."

The Turkish prime minister stressed his move was not against Peres but against the president of the session who interrupted Erdogan, Frish said.

Gul defended the prime minister's stance. "He gave the response that should have been given in order to imply disrespect. Turkey is making efforts for peace and stability in the region ... and everybody should make use of that," he said.

The influential Turkish army, which has a series of cooperation accords with the Israeli military, signaled that close relations would continue, stressing "national interests."

Despite the hero's welcome from party supporters, Erdogan came under fire from the opposition and foreign policy experts, who accused him of casting Turkey as a Hamas supporter and dealing a blow to ties with Israel.

"Mr. Erdogan ruined the international prestige of Turkey,” said Onur Oymen, deputy chairman of the main opposition CHP party. “Supporting the Palestinian cause is one thing, but supporting Hamas is something else. Mr. Erdogan acted like a spokesman for an organization that is classed as terrorist."

Burak Akinci/AFP/Expatica

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