Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has thrown his political weight behind Hamas and accused Israel of carrying out “terrorist acts” in its bombardment of the Gaza Strip. "Those who associate Islam with terrorism close their eyes in the face of mass killing of Muslims, turn their heads from the massacre of children in Gaza," Erdogan told a conference of the Eurasian Islamic Council. He added: "For this reason, I say that Israel is a terrorist state, and its acts are terrorist acts."
On Saturday, Erdogan had already spoken out firmly against Israel. In a speech given at Cairo University, he accused Israel of "turning the region into a blood swamp. Every drop of Palestinian blood is pouring from the veins of all Muslims and every tear dropping from their eyes is our tear too." He also decried Israel's airstrikes on Gaza as a pre-election stunt in which innocent people are being killed. "Before this election they shot these innocent people in Gaza for reasons they fabricated," he told reporters in Istanbul. Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuloglu is expected to visit the Gaza Strip this week.
A few weeks ago, Turkey’s military itself retaliated against targets in Syria, after several shell fired from Syria had landed on Turkish territory. At the time, a statement issued by Erdogan’s office had said: "Our armed forces on the border responded immediately to this atrocious attack within the rules of engagement, and points in Syria determined by radar were hit with artillery fire. Turkey, within the confines of the rules of engagement and international law, will never leave these types of provocations aimed at our national security unanswered."
Diplomatic efforts to end hostilities stepped up
Meanwhile, diplomatic efforts to end the current conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza have increased. US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is set to arrive in Israel Tuesday night. Clinton will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday, according to a report by the ‘Jerusalem Post’. On Monday night, German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle arrived in Israel where he met with Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, before heading to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. On Sunday, Westerwelle’s French counterpart Laurent Fabius had similarly held meetings in Jerusalem and Ramallah to discuss the options for a Gaza cease-fire.
On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon arrived in Cairo, and was expected in Jerusalem on Tuesday on the heels of visits by the French and German foreign ministers. The Israeli government agreed to briefly hold off on sending ground forces into Gaza in order to allow time for ceasefire efforts in Cairo to continue. “Israel prefers a diplomatic solution,” a government official to the ‘Jerusalem Post’, adding that any agreement had to provide a real solution that would end the threat of rocket attacks against Israel. If such a diplomatic solution was not found, then Israel would prepare its ground forces to enter Gaza, he said.
US President Barack Obama called Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to underscore the necessity of ending Hamas rocket fire into Israel, and to talk about ways to deescalate the situation. He also spoke with Netanyahu, his third conversation with the Israeli prime minister since Operation Pillar of Defense was launched last Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the exiled Hamas leader Khaleed Mashal (pictured below) claimed that Netanyahu had asked for halt of hostilities in the Gaza Strip. “Netanyahu was the one who requested a ceasefire from the Americans, Egypt and the Europeans,” he told reporters in Cairo. “We were not the ones to ask for a ceasefire.” Mashal boasted that Hamas and other armed groups in the Gaza Strip had managed to achieve a balance of power with Israel within 48 hours after the assassination of Ahmed Jabari, the commander of Hamas’s armed wing, the Qassam Brigades.
An official in the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem denied Mashal’s claim that Netanyahu had asked for a ceasefire. “We have been hitting Hamas very hard,” the official said, according to the ‘Jerusalem Post’. He explained that Israel had attacked Hamas’s weapons arsenal, leadership, buildings and communication apparatus from the air.
The special envoy for the International Quartet on the Middle East, Tony Blair, told Israel’s President Shimon Peres that Egypt, Qatar, the United States and the United Nations were working to put in place a ceasefire. Peres said that he appreciated efforts by Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi to end the conflict. “Egypt is a significant player in the Middle East. Strangely, it is Hamas that doesn’t listen to the Egyptian president,” he declared.
Russia on Monday urged an end to Palestinian rocket attacks and what it called disproportionate Israeli bombing of the Gaza Strip, and said it may propose a UN Security Council resolution on the conflict. “We again affirm our position on the inadmissibility of firing at Israeli regions and of disproportionate strikes on Gaza,” the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
“Moscow considers it necessary to stop the military confrontation without delay.” Moscow accused the United States of blocking a bid by the Security Council to condemn the escalating conflict between Israel and the Palestinians said other council members were filibustering the issue, according to the news agency 'Reuters'.