Israel launched its punishing three-week campaign of air strikes and ground incursions on Dec. 27, 2008, saying the operation was meant to stop years of rocket attacks from Gaza. The offensive eventually left about 1,400 Palestinians dead, including many civilians, and brought heavy international criticism upon Israel, including accusations of war crimes and crimes against humanity by a United Nations investigation. Thirteen Israelis were also killed in the conflict and Hamas also faces war crimes allegations.
Speaking to reporters during his visit to the Palestinian ambassador to Turkey, Nabil Maarouf, Davutoğlu said the humanitarian tragedy in Gaza is still continuing, while also recalling an aid conference on the Gaza Strip held in March -- the conference to which Turkish leaders frequently refer when they blame the international community for failing to honor the promises given at the conference in Sharm el-Sheikh.
“From now on, Gaza should be rehabilitated from being an open-prison and a kind of ghetto,” Davutoğlu said, underlining that everybody has responsibility for Gaza and pledging the continuation of Turkey’s efforts to provide humanitarian support to the region.
The enduring tragedy in Gaza is obstacle to reconciliation among rival Palestinian groups as well as to the healthy improvement within the Middle East peace process, he said.
“If there is a wound in a body and if this wound is bleeding constantly, then it means that this body has no ability to think clearly. That’s why we consider that the resolution of the Gaza issue as soon as possible is vital for both Israel-Palestine talks and the Middle East peace process,” he went on saying, in an implicit reference to the stalled peace talks between Israel and Syria which were mediated by Turkey until the Gaza offensive.
Palestinian Ambassador Nabil Maarouf (R) speaks to reporters on Monday during a visit by Davutoğlu to the Palestinian Embassy.
“Gaza is like a ticking bomb in the Middle East. As long as the blockade continues, this may lead to results which will escalate the tension at any moment,” Davutoğlu warned. Noting that the blockade of Gaza needs to be lifted, he said: “Our region and the world have no more patience left. We, as Turkey, call on all parties; this blockade should be removed and the path to peace process should be opened.”
For his part, Maarouf said the ongoing ambiguity and humanitarian tragedy in Gaza have been negatively affecting efforts of reconciliation among Palestinian groups. “We want our Palestinian siblings to gather around one authority at once and protect their rights and an end to the ambiguity in Palestine,” Maarouf said.
Both Davutoğlu and Maarouf were asked about Cairo’s refusal to let an aid convoy trying to reach the blockaded Gaza Strip cross through its territory. The convoy was still stranded in Jordan as of Sunday while members of the convoy, which is led by British Member of Parliament George Galloway, were hoping for a solution thanks to mediation by Turkey to enter Gaza through the Red Sea port of Nuweiba, the most direct route.
Over the weekend, Davutoğlu asked for diplomatic talks to take place between Turkish and Egyptian officials at the Egyptian Embassy in Ankara and the Turkish Embassy in Egypt. Davutoğlu’s attempts to persuade Egypt to allow the convoy to enter Gaza were unsuccessful. Egypt has continued to insist that the convoy should return to Syria and then enter Egypt through the port of El Arish.
Davutoğlu ruled out any negative developments between Egypt and Turkey over the issue. On the contrary, he said there has been full consultative cooperation on this issue between the two countries.
“We hope that this issue will be overcome in a short time and those exerting efforts, in a way, will be showing their solidarity with Gaza,” the minister added, indicating his expectations from Egypt. He also noted that the issue was not a matter of principle but was rather an effort for agreeing on a route acceptable for all parties.
Maarouf said a map for the convoy’s route has already been drawn up and that they expected the issue to be resolved within this framework. He didn’t elaborate.