Israel has recalled diplomats from Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused it of behaving like a “war criminal”.
He made the comments while addressing thousands of demonstrators at a pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul.
The Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen responded by ordering diplomats to return.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel has “the most moral army in the world”.
Israel has expanded its strikes on the Gaza Strip, three weeks after Hamas launched its attack on southern Israel, killing more than 1,400 people and taking 229 people hostage.
Since then, the Hamas-run health ministry in Gaza says more than 7,500 Palestinians have been killed as Israel carries out retaliatory strikes.
Addressing a crowd of several hundred thousand Palestinian supporters on Saturday, the Turkish president said “the main culprit behind the massacre unfolding in Gaza is the West”.
“Israel has been openly committing war crimes for 22 days, but the Western leaders cannot even call on Israel for a ceasefire, let alone react to it,” he said.
He accused Israel of behaving like a “war criminal” and accused it of trying to “eradicate” Palestinians.
He continued: “Of course, every country has the right to defend itself. But where is the justice in this case? There is no justice – just a vicious massacre happening in Gaza.”
It follows posts from the Turkish leader earlier on Saturday on X, formerly known as Twitter, in which he said the latest escalation had targeted “innocent civilians” and worsened Gaza’s humanitarian crisis, adding: “Israel must immediately stop this madness and end its attacks”.
Moments after President Erdogan finished his remarks at the rally, Israel’s Foreign Minister Mr Cohen said on X: “Given the grave statements coming from Turkey, I have ordered the return of diplomatic representatives there in order to conduct a re-evaluation of the relations between Israel and Turkey.”
Israeli Prime Minister Mr Netanyahu later said: “Don’t accuse us of war crimes. If you think that you can accuse our soldiers of war crimes that is hypocrisy. We are the most moral army in the world.”
He added the Israel Defense Forces is taking precautions to protect civilians, and accused Hamas of committing crimes against humanity by “using their people as human shields”.
The two countries have a history of tense relations.
Once close allies, Turkey broke off diplomatic ties with Israel in 2010 after 10 pro-Palestinian Turkish activists were killed in clashes with Israeli commandos who boarded a Turkish-owned ship trying to break Israel’s maritime blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Relations were restored in 2016, but they expelled each other’s top diplomats in 2018 in a dispute over Israel’s killing of Palestinians amid protests on the Gaza-Israel border.
Turkey does not consider Hamas a terrorist organisation – unlike countries including the US and UK. It has long hosted its members and supports a two-state solution.
Source: The Moscow Times