Appealing to both Israeli and Gazan authorities, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has urged both sides to declare a cease-fire within 24 hours while criticizing calls by Western powers on Hamas to end rocket attacks into Israel as a precondition to de-escalate Israel's Gaza offensive.
The latest surge in the long-running conflict between Israel and Gaza began when the former killed Hamas military mastermind Ahmed al-Jabari in an air strike on his car on Wednesday. Israel then began shelling the coastal enclave from the land, air and sea. Six days of Israeli air strikes have left over 50 dead, mostly women and children.
Speaking at the Turkey-Egypt Business Forum in Cairo on Sunday, Erdoğan stated that both sides should agree on a cease-fire within 24 hours, adding that prolonging the conflict will make no gains for either side.
“Can there be such injustice?” Erdoğan asked when commenting on calls by Western nations on Hamas to hold fire while suggesting that Israel has the right to defend itself but won't stop the offensive.
“We want justice. We suggest and we want for the fire to be halted simultaneously,” Erdoğan said, adding that all embargoes in the region should be lifted in order to bring prosperity to the region. He said talks on this could start in 90 days.
Erdoğan underlined that he had discussed with Western leaders that Turkey and countries Hamas considers friendly to it could talk to the authorities in Gaza while the Western countries negotiate with Israel to reach a cease-fire.
Israel's operation so far has drawn Western support for what US and European leaders have called its right to self-defense, but there was also a growing number of appeals from them to seek an end to the hostilities.
While Erdoğan was speaking in Cairo, Israel bombed Palestinian targets in the Gaza Strip from the air and sea for a fifth straight day, preparing for a possible ground invasion while also spelling out its conditions for a truce.
Turkish leaders earlier called on the US to pressure Israel to stop its attacks on Gaza, but the US, which is backing Israel in this conflict, has asked Turkey and Egypt to use their ties with Hamas to encourage the Palestinian group to stop attacking Israel. “We've … urged those who have a degree of influence with Hamas, such as Turkey and Egypt and some of our European partners, to use that influence to urge Hamas to de-escalate,” said Ben Rhodes, US deputy national security advisor, during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
Speaking to reporters on Sunday, Ben Rhodes said the United States would like to see the conflict resolved through "de-escalation" and diplomacy and said the US believes Turkish and Egyptian leaders could play constructive roles to establish dialogue with Hamas.
Rhodes added that the reason US President Barack Obama called Erdoğan as well as Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi recently was that they had the ability to play a constructive role in engaging Hamas and encouraging a process of de-escalation.
Morsi said in Cairo, as his security deputies sought to broker a truce with Hamas leaders, that "there are some indications that there is a possibility of a cease-fire soon, but we do not yet have firm guarantees."
Egypt has mediated previous cease-fire deals between Israel and Hamas, the latest of which unraveled with recent violence.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in his comments at Sunday's cabinet session, said he had emphasized in telephone conversations with world leaders "the effort Israel is making to avoid harming civilians, while Hamas and the terrorist organizations are making every effort to hit civilian targets in Israel.
Erdoğan: Conditions in 2012 different from 2008
Addressing Netanyahu, Erdoğan said the conditions in 2012 were different from those in 2008.
“Israel also attacked Gaza in 2008 prior to [Israeli] elections, and now that elections are approaching again, Israel is doing the same thing. However, we are not in 2008. We are in 2012 and the conditions are different,” Erdogan said.
Prior to his visit to Egypt on Friday, Erdoğan strongly denounced Israel and linked what he called Israel's “barbaric position” to election tactics. He also recalled that Operation Cast Lead had been launched in the lead-up to an Israeli election.
“As you know, there will be an election next month in Israel. And, as you see, Israel has started pounding Gaza with bombs for what are fabricated reasons,” Erdoğan told reporters on Friday, adding that he hopes Israel will drop its hostile stance when a resolution is passed by the UN Security Council and world powers assume a different stance.
Erdoğan also blamed the “dominant powers” of the world, apparently referring to the US, for the suffering of the people in Gaza. “The dominant world powers are now making the Gazan people and fighters pay and, as the Republic of Turkey, we stand with our brothers in Gaza and their just cause,” said Erdoğan, accusing Israel of pounding the Palestinian territory for “fabricated reasons.”
On Saturday, in his speech at Cairo University, Erdoğan stated that Israel will sooner or later pay the price for the children it killed in the Gaza Strip, vowing support for the Palestinians.
“As I had told the Israeli president in Davos, Israel knows how to kill children and how to use disproportionate force very well,” said Erdogan.
Erdoğan also called two rival Palestinian groups, Hamas and Fatah, to reconcile, saying that without reconciliation the Palestinian question will remain unsolved.
The Turkish prime minister said development of not only politics and foreign policy but also the economy and social life in the region was related to solving the Israeli-Palestinian issue.
On Friday, Erdoğan also dismissed possible talks between Turkey and Israel.
Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç made a surprise offer on Thursday and suggested that Turkey and Israel hold bilateral talks to end the escalating crisis in Gaza despite the rift between the two nations.
Arınç acknowledged that relations between Turkey and Israel are now frozen but said Turkey will make every effort in this regard. “But these two states should have talks at least on this issue to end this tragedy and the attacks,” Arınç said.
Turkish-Israeli relations collapsed after eight Turkish nationals and one Turkish American were killed when the Israeli navy attacked an international aid flotilla trying to break an Israeli blockade of Gaza in May 2010.
Ankara wants an official apology from Israel for the raid and calls for the lifting of Israel's Gaza blockade, but both demands have so far been rejected by the Israeli government. With tensions increased, Turkey has expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended military agreements it had with the country.
Noting that Israel was so cruel that it could kill children, Erdoğan said Israel did the same thing to Turkey, and killed nine Turks in 2010 aboard the Mavi Marmara, which was carrying humanitarian aid to Gaza. The ship was in international waters at the time of the attack.