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Last Updated: Thursday, 3 June, 2004, 10:35 GMT 11:35 UK
Turkey slams 'Israeli terrorism'
Palestinians forced to leave their homes in Gaza, with Israeli tank in background
Many Palestinians have been made homeless in the past month
Turkey's prime minister has repeated an accusation that Israel was practising "state terrorism" against Palestinians.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Israelis were persecuting Palestinians just as Jews were persecuted during the Spanish Inquisition 500 years ago.

Israel was "bombing civilians, killing people without any considerations - children, women, the elderly - razing buildings using bulldozers," he said.

Israel has called for "more solidarity" from Turkey, its closest regional ally.

Jews were the victims [in Spain]. Today Palestinians are the victims and the people of Israel are treating Palestinians as they were treated 500 years ago
Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Mr Erdogan was giving his first interview to the Israeli media since he caused dismay in Israel last month by calling its military operations in the southern Gaza town of Rafah "state terrorism".

At the time Israel's foreign ministry issued an unusual rebuke to Ankara, saying his comments were "extremely regrettable" and Turkey, which had also fallen prey to "cruel terrorism", was expected to show "more understanding and solidarity".

But in the interview published in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Thursday, Mr Erdogan said his relationship with Israelis and Jews in general was free of problems and that his criticism was solely directed at the right-wing coalition government of Ariel Sharon.

"We are in favour of the peace process being regenerated, and the government of Israel has not contributed to our efforts to do so," he said.

Close ties

Mr Erdogan stressed that Turks had once "opened their hearts and homes" to Jews who fled from the Inquisition and now they wanted to mediate between Israel and other countries in the Middle East to achieve peace.

Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Erdogan leads an Islamic-rooted party in Turkey's secular system
But he stood by his earlier accusation that Israel was practising "state terrorism" against Palestinians.

"When you look at the structure of what has happened, how else can you interpret it?" he said.

Israel usually enjoys very close relations with Turkey, its strongest military and trade partner in the Middle East region.

Mr Erdogan went on to make an apparently veiled criticism of another ally, Washington, calling for a more multilateral approach in its "global war on terrorism".

"Saying 'I am the strong one, so I can name anyone I want as a terrorist and anyone I want as a criminal and just kill them and go' - that mentality is wrong," he said.

"All those responsible are losing their credibility with every passing day... You must have followed what kind of reactions the pictures of the abuse in Abu Ghraib prison [in Iraq] received," he added.

The interview ends with Mr Erdogan sending "shalom" to all the citizens of Israel, especially the ones who emigrated from Turkey.

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