Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Wednesday he was cancelling plans to visit Israel because of its “inhumane” war against Hamas militants in Gaza.
The Turkish leader added that he did not view Hamas as a terrorist organisation but as “liberators”, fighting for their land, drawing a swift and angry condemnation from the Israeli government.
Erdogan had taken a more measured tone in the first day of war, condemning all attacks against civilians and urging Israel to be measured in its response to the deadly October 7 attacks by Hamas.
But he became much more vocal after the deadly strike on Ahli Arab hospital in Gaza last week, leading to large and angry protests across the Muslim world.
He doubled down on Wednesday, telling ruling party lawmakers in parliament that Turkey “never approved the atrocities being committed by Israel”.
“We had a project to go to Israel, but it was cancelled, we will not go,” he in televised remarks.
Ankara’s relations with Israel froze over an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship carrying aid into Gaza, which killed 10 civilians in 2010.
Erdogan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a United Nations summit in New York last month, marking an improvement in relations that began with a decision last year to reappoint ambassadors.
The Turkish leader did not say when he had intended to visit Israel, where Ankara had been eyeing joining a natural gas pipeline project promoted by the United States.
“Of course, we had good intentions, but (Netanyahu) abused them,” Erdogan said.
“If he had continued with good intentions, our relations might have been different, but now, unfortunately, this will not happen either.”
The latest and by far the deadliest Gaza war broke out when Hamas staged a surprise raid during which militants killed more 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and took 222 hostages, according to Israeli authorities.
The Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza said 6,546 people have been killed, again mostly civilians, as Israel continues to bombarded the territory in preparation for a possible land assault.
Erdogan is expected to appear at a massive rally in Istanbul on Saturday defending Palestinian rights.
He told his Islamic-rooted party on Wednesday that Turkey had “no problem with the Israeli state”, but could not accept its “disgusting and brutal attacks” on Gaza.
“Hamas is not a terror organisation, but a group of liberators and mujahideen (guerrilla fighters) who protect their lands,” Erdogan said, drawing a round of applause from his party faithful.
The Israeli foreign ministry fired back, accusing Erdogan of defending “terrorists”.
“The Turkish president’s attempt to defend the terrorist organisation and his inciting words will not change the horrors that the whole world has seen,” it said.