Turkey expels Israel’s consul in Istanbul in tit for tat

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Turkey on Tuesday night ordered Israel’s consul general in Istanbul, Yossi Levi Sfari, to leave the country, the Foreign Ministry confirmed, a further volley in a round of diplomat expulsions that has seen both countries kick out each others’ ambassadors as relations soured over deadly clashes on the Gaza Strip border.

Earlier in the day, Israel expelled Turkey’s consul in Jerusalem amid an increasingly acerbic war of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sfari has been consul in Istanbul since October 2017.

The removal from Jerusalem of Consul-General Hüsnü Gürcan Türkoğlu, who also represents Turkey to the Palestinian Authority, was extraordinary in that Israel rarely interacts with foreign diplomats dealing exclusively with the Palestinians.

Foreign Ministry Head of Protocol Meron Reuben told Türkoğlu that he was “requested to return to his country for consultation for a certain period of time,” ministry spokesperson Emmanuel Nahshon said.

Yossi Levi Sfari. (Courtesy)

A veteran diplomat, Nahshon said he could not recall a precedent in which Israel kicked out a senior diplomat who deals with the Palestinians.

Turkey’s Consulate-General in Jerusalem opened in 1925. Its mission “reflects deep-rooted historical, cultural and humanitarian relations between Turkey and Palestine,” Türkoğlu is quoted as saying on the mission’s website.

“[The] Palestinian issue has always been at the top of priorities for the Turkish Foreign Policy. Observing the traces of Turkish cultural existence in the third holiest place, Al-Aqsa Mosque, as well as in almost all places of Palestine is a source of pride for a Turkish diplomat,” he says.

Jerusalem’s language mirrored that used by Turkey in requesting that Israel’s ambassador to Ankara, Eitan Na’eh, temporarily leave the country in protest after dozens of Palestinians were killed during Hamas-organized confrontations with Israeli security forces on the Gaza border.

Turkey has also recalled its ambassadors to Israel and the US for consultations on the situation.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry said 60 Palestinians were killed and more than 2,700 more injured in Monday’s clashes.

The IDF said Tuesday that at least 24 of the dead were members of terror groups Hamas and Islamic Jihad. Israel claims that Hamas is spurring the violence and using it for cover for attacks.

The protests appeared to be thinning out Tuesday with only some 4,000 said to join the border clashes, according to the IDF. That was compared to some 40,000 Palestinians who participated in violent riots along the security fence on Monday.

Ankara reacted with fury to the clashes, which came on the same day the United States formally moved its embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem in defiance of international criticism.

Palestinians carry an injured man who was shot by Israeli troops during a deadly protest at the Gaza Strip’s border with Israel, east of Khan Younis, on May 14, 2018. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Slamming the Israeli response, Erdoğan said Monday that Israel is “a terror state” that has committed “a genocide.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back a day later, saying that as a prime supporter of Hamas, the Turkish leader was himself involved in “terrorism and slaughter.”

“A man who sends thousands of Turkish soldiers to maintain the occupation of Northern Cyprus and invades Syria will preach to us as we defend ourselves from infiltration attempt by Hamas,” he added in an official statement. “A man whose hands are stained with the blood of countless Kurdish citizens in Turkey and Syria is the last to preach to us about military ethics.”

Erdoğan, in a rare post in English to his personal Twitter account, retorted that “Netanyahu is the PM of an apartheid state that has occupied a defenseless people’s lands for 60+ yrs in violation of UN resolutions. He has the blood of Palestinians on his hands and can’t cover up crimes by attacking Turkey”

The Turkish president added, “Want a lesson in humanity? Read the 10 commandments.”

The flareup between the two firebrand leaders was the latest in a string of altercations to threaten the already-shaky relations between the countries, which were reestablished only recently after being broken off for several years.

Turkey’s ambassador to Israel, Mekin Mustafa Kemal Okem, whom it recalled on Monday, only arrived in Tel Aviv in late 2016 after his post had been vacant for more than five years.

Israel’s new ambassador to Turkey, Eitan Na’eh, hands his credentials to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Monday, December 5, 2016. (courtesy Turkish Presidency)

Na’eh, too, the Israeli ambassador, had been in his post only since December 2016 after a reconciliation deal earlier that year formally ended a five-year dispute over the storming of a Gaza-bound ship by Israeli commandos in which ten Turks were killed.

On Monday, Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim urged Islamic countries to review their ties with Israel.

“Islamic countries should without fail review their relations with Israel,” he told his ruling party in parliament. “The Islamic world should move as one, with one voice, against this massacre.”

Turkey’s Prime Minister Binali Yildirim addresses members of parliament from his ruling AK Party (AKP) as he arrives for a meeting at the Turkish parliament on April 18, 2017 in Ankara. (ADEM ALTAN / AFP)

Yildirim added that Turkey had called an “extraordinary summit” of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s main pan-Islamic body, on Friday. Erdoğan currently holds the rotating chairmanship of the body.

It was not immediately clear what format the meeting would take or who might attend. Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said in parliament that the summit would take place in Istanbul.

In an apparent bid to drum up support for the event, Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu held telephone talks with around a dozen counterparts from the Islamic world. They included the foreign ministers of Jordan, Indonesia, and Iran as well as the OIC secretary general Yousef bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen, foreign ministry sources said.

The Turkish president has positioned himself as a defender of the Palestinians and harshly criticized the US recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and its relocation of its embassy to the city, saying that the move was a violation of international law.

Agencies contributed to this report.





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