Relations between Israel and Turkey took a sharp turn for the worse on Sunday after their leaders exchanged accusations of involvement in terrorism, days after the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital. First, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said he would fight against the controversial declaration, describing Israel as a "terrorist state" that kills children, in a speech in Istanbul.
"Palestine is an innocent victim… as for Israel, it is a terrorist state, yes, terrorist!” Erdogan said in a speech in the central Turkish city of Sivas. "We will not abandon Jerusalem to the mercy of a state that kills children."
The Turkish leader has previously threatened to cut off ties with Israel if Trump follows through with his promise to move the US embassy. He has helped organize an international meeting of officials from Muslim majority countries to discuss how they should respond. Furthermore, he also warned that moving the embassy would represent an obstacle from a logistical standpoint.
Hours after Erdogan's outburst, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back, calling his counterpart a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers and supports terrorists, during an official visit to Paris. While the two countries had normalised relations in recent years, Sunday's flare-up came after Turkey was angered by US President Donald Trump's decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Furthermore, as we reported on Friday and Saturday, Trump's move has sparked protests in Muslim and Arab countries for four days.
Erdogan earlier described the status of Jerusalem, whose eastern sector Palestinians see as the capital of their future state, as a "red line" for Muslims. Netanyahu was quick to counter the assault when he spoke later during a press conference alongside French President Emmanuel Macron.
"I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from a leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people," he said quoted by AFP. "That is not the man who is going to lecture us."
The tit for tat then continued, and the Israeli premier's comments were immediately denounced by Erdogan's spokesman Ibrahim Kalin who said: "Instead of taking on our country and our leader, the Israeli authorities would do better to end their occupation of the Palestinian territories."
Erdogan has used his position as the current chairman of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) to call a summit of the pan-Islamic group on Wednesday. "We will show that applying the measure will not be as easy as that," he added on Sunday, referring to the US recognition of Jerusalem. He said it was "absurd" to deny the Jews' "ancient connection" to Jerusalem.
During his speech, Erdogan held a picture of what he said was a 14-year-old Palestinian boy from Hebron, in the Occupied West Bank, being dragged away by Israeli soldiers. Turkey and Israel had improved diplomatic ties in recent years but Erdogan has continued to defend the Palestinian cause and has regularly criticised Israeli policy.