ANKARA: Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Thursday launched one of his strongest attacks yet on Israel over its offensive in the Gaza Strip, accusing the Jewish state of showing “Hitler-like fascism” against the Palestinians.
Speaking at a mass rally in eastern Turkey to promote his candidacy in presidential elections, Erdogan said he was happy to give back an award that was bestowed upon him by an American Jewish Group in 2004.
The American Jewish Congress wants the decoration to be returned after protesting Erdogan’s bitter attacks where he has compared Israel to the Third Reich which slaughtered millions of Jews in the Holocaust.
“If you support this cruelty, this genocide, this Hitler-like fascism and child murderer regime, take your award back,” Erdogan said at the election rally in the eastern province of Van.
“What is the difference between Israeli actions and those of the Nazis and Hitler?” he asked.
“How can you explain what the Israeli state has been doing in Gaza, Palestine, if not genocide?” he said. “This is racism. This is fascism. This is keeping Hitler’s spirit alive,” he added.
Erdogan, who presents himself as a champion of Palestinian rights, has heightened his criticism of the Israeli military campaign in Gaza, firing almost daily tirades at election rallies in the run-up to the August 10 presidential vote.
“Who stood up for Jews at a time when they were expelled from their home countries? It was our ancestors, it was the Ottomans,” he said, referring to the sanctuary given to Jews expelled from Spain in the 15th century.
“Aren’t you embarrassed? How immoral you are…. It is us who protects the Jews on our soil and lets them live safely.”
Meanwhile, Ahed Zaqout, a former Palestinian national team player, has been killed by an Israeli bomb that hit his apartment in Gaza, Palestinian medical officials said on Thursday.
“Palestine has lost one of its best players, he may have been the best midfielder we ever had,” Gaza sports journalist Khaled Zaher said.
Neighbors and medics who rushed to Zaqout’s apartment said he was killed on Wednesday while sleeping in his bed. The 49-year-old was not known to belong to any particular political entity and had never expressed clear political views.
The fair-haired midfielder captained the junior national side and turned out once for the full national team in 1994 in a friendly against a team of French stars that included Michel Platini.
More recently, Zaqout turned to coaching and hosted a sports show on national Palestinian television.