Condemning Israel's killing of civilians in Gaza, Parliament Speaker Köksal Toptan yesterday warned that the ongoing conflict in Gaza could lead to regional instability if not stopped at once.
Israel's onslaught against Gaza's Hamas government has killed more than 940 Palestinians, half of them civilians, according to Palestinian hospital officials. The toll included four Palestinians, including at least two militants, killed in overnight fighting, hospital officials said yesterday. Thirteen Israelis have also been killed since the offensive began, four of them by rocket fire from Gaza.
Israel's bombardment of Gaza began on Dec. 27 and has triggered daily protests in Turkey. On Tuesday, schoolchildren observed a minute of silence for the Gaza victims.
Toptan's remarks came at a hastily assembled meeting of the executive committee of the Parliamentary Union of the Organization of the Islamic Conference member states (PUOICM), held in İstanbul.
"Our Palestinian siblings are suffering in Gaza from an absence of the most fundamental needs. Thousands of people became homeless due to the bombardment. A lot of civilians, including women and children, have lost their lives. A humanitarian crisis affecting multitudes is taking place in Gaza. This should not be allowed to continue," Toptan said at the meeting, which gathered around 200 participants from 30 countries.
Fourteen countries, including executive committee members Algeria, Azerbaijan, Chad, Egypt, Iran, Mali, Niger and Saudi Arabia, were represented by their parliament speakers while others were represented by either vice parliament speakers or deputies.
Focusing on an Israeli assault near a UN school that killed some 40 people, Toptan said: "All of these developments are open and definite indications that show Israel has been using disproportionate and extreme power in its attacks on Gaza -- attacks it continues despite warnings from the international community and outrage in international public opinion. Let us not forget that people in Gaza being bombed today and the Israelis are two neighboring peoples who have to live together in this region. These kinds of operations seriously harm initiatives and hopes for peace. They create new zones of indignation by escalating violence in the region."
Palestinian rights groups say Israel is using disproportionate force in its efforts to crush Hamas, which governs Gaza, one of the most densely populated areas in the world. Air strikes that target militants often hit civilians. The images of maimed or bloodied Palestinian civilians, including women and children, have increased criticism of Israel's wartime tactics. The United Nations has called for an investigation into the growing civilian casualties in Gaza.
"I'm worried that these kinds of actions -- which affect the life of the entire population without making any distinction -- will nourish a psychological environment that will be a new big obstacle to making peace between the parties in the future. … This conflict also has high potential to spread into the entire region and destabilize it," Toptan warned.
An Egyptian proposal calls for a temporary cease-fire, followed by a long-term truce and the opening of Gaza's border crossings with the presence of officials from the Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas, whose forces Hamas drove out of Gaza in 2007. The third phase of the initiative deals with efforts to reconcile Hamas and Abbas' Fatah group.
In Damascus, the Turkish prime minister's top foreign policy adviser, Ahmet Davutoğlu, met for the third time in two days with Hamas' exiled political leader Khaled Mashaal on Tuesday. Davutoğlu, who arrived in the Syrian capital over the weekend, has been engaging in shuttle diplomacy between Egyptian officials and Hamas leaders in a bid to reach a cease-fire agreement in the Gaza Strip.
Once Egypt reaches an agreement with Hamas representatives, Israel is expected to send a negotiator to Cairo to be briefed. Israel and Hamas do not meet face to face.
One possible solution to the crisis involves the use of Turkish troops as monitors, according to diplomats familiar with negotiations, The Associated Press reported from Cairo. Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit did not reject the possibility outright during the press conference with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, but rather said it was "premature" until agreement from Hamas and the Palestinian Authority had been reached.
Iran, meanwhile, praised Turkey's efforts, with its parliament speaker, Ali Larijani, who participated in the PUOICM meeting in İstanbul, calling these efforts "extremely punctual."
His praise came when he was asked what message he had given to the Turkish government when he met with Prime Minister Erdoğan in Ankara on Tuesday. "The Turkish government doesn't need a message. They act extremely punctual and good on this issue," he responded.
What has been experienced in Gaza is not a war, but a crime against humanity and Hamas has the right to defend itself, Larijani also said, adding: "In my opinion, if this situation gets prolonged, it will damage the Israeli regime."