Jerusalem and Ankara engaged in a nasty public exchange on Monday over Israel’s air strikes the night before in Gaza, just two days after the Turkish parliament ratified a rapprochement accord with Israel.
Following the air strikes, which came in response to a rocket attack from Gaza on Sderot, the Turkish Foreign Ministry issued a harshly worded statement that condemned the “disproportionate attacks,” saying they are “unacceptable” regardless of the reason.
“Normalizing ties with Israel does not mean that we will keep silent in the face of attacks against the Palestinian people,” the statement read.
It said that Israel’s “aggressive” position is “bound to defeat the peace process.”
The Foreign Ministry fired back a few hours later with a statement of its own, saying “The normalization of our relations with Turkey does not mean that we will remain silent in the face of its baseless condemnations.”
Israel, the statement continued, “will continue to defend its civilians from all rocket fire on our territory, in accordance with international law and our conscience. Turkey should think twice before criticizing the military actions of others.”
Despite the sharp tone, one Israeli official said the situation in Gaza won’t impact on the reconciliation, “because in the current situation in the region, Turkey needs it.”
The two countries still need to exchange ambassadors.
Ankara’s condemnation came a day after both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin issued statements condemning the terrorist attack in Gaziantep that killed 54 people, and called on the international community to join efforts to fight terrorism.
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The Turkish Foreign Ministry statement came hours after police detained five people who entered the perimeter courtyard in Ankara where Israel’s consulate is located, to protest the Gaza air strikes.
Meanwhile, a senior IDF official said on Monday that the military ”is not interested in an escalation,” though his comment followed a night of some 50 air strikes targeting terrorist sites in the Gaza Strip in response to Sunday’s Gaza rocket attack on Sderot.
Nonetheless, the official said that the IDF is “ready for anything” and “prepared” for a wider operation if necessary.
He emphasized that some 1,000 trucks containing supplies and aid would enter Gaza throughout the day, as evidence of the IDF’s commitment to avoid an escalation.
However, the wider series of air strikes on Sunday night against Hamas targets after the IDF had already responded more typically with a more limited response of two counterstrikes earlier on Sunday left some question marks.
If the IDF did not want an escalation, what was the meaning of the second counterstrike, which was the largest since the 2014 Gaza war? Late Monday night, Channel 2 reported that a senior defense establishment source had said that the broader counterstrike was in fact a change in policy, and signaled to Gaza that any future rocket firings would be met with a similar massive response of deterrence.
Yet both the IDF and Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s spokesman strongly denied issuing such a statement, and refused to confirm such a change in policy beyond the current incident and no other outlets reported anything similar.
The IDF had issued a middle-ofthe- night statement that it would hold Hamas responsible for all rocket attacks emanating from Gaza, even if it was not directly involved and was the work of splinter groups.
The IDF would not publicly identify its targets other than that they were connected to Hamas, with reports that other terrorist groups were also hit. Palestinian reports also indicated that the earlier Israeli air strike hit a Hamas lookout point, and that an Israeli tank shell damaged a Beit Hanoun water tower.
There were contrary reports about whether Gazans were injured in the IDF’s counterstrikes and how many were injured.
Despite targeting Hamas, the IDF also refused to identify who was responsible for firing the rocket, but Palestinian reports seemed to settle on Aknaf Beit al-Maqdas, an Isis-sympathizing, Salafist group based in Gaza. The group claimed responsibility for the rocket, saying, “What is known as the settlement of Sderot, which sits in usurped Muslim lands, was targeted by two rockets at 2:20 p.m. Sunday afternoon. The firing of the rocket came as a part of the continued jihad against the Jewish enemies of God, and as a response to the continued desecration of al-Aksa Mosque by the settlers.”
Earlier, many outlets had reported that the Abu Alu Mustafa Brigades, the military arm of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, was responsible, but the group later denied responsibility.
Hamas responded to the strikes on Monday morning saying that “Israel is responsible for this escalation in the Gaza Strip.”
Further, it added that it was dedicated to liberating Palestine and not to responding to every operation, and was not currently interested in escalation.
However, it also said that if Israel pushed it, it would respond in kind.
As of Monday night Hamas had not yet responded militarily, and it appeared that it would not in the immediate future.
In Sderot, police confirmed that there were no reports of injuries or damage from Sunday’s rocket. “Terrorism will not conquer us and will not break the fortitude of our citizens,” said Mayor Alon Davidi.
“These have been the quietest two years that this entire area has known, and it cannot be that an isolated incident will violate the quiet. We will continue forward, and tonight we will all enjoy the Heart of Sderot festival, the summer festival of Sderot and the nearby areas.”
After days of heavy activity and pronouncements, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman made no public comment about the day’s events.
The town of Sderot boasts a population of 19,000 residents. According to the IDF, 14 rockets have been fired into Israel from Gaza so far in 2016.
The last rocket strike from Gaza was also on Sderot at the beginning of July, and the IDF launched air strikes against Hamas in that case as well.
In late May, Ajnad Bait al-Maqdis, a salafi terrorist organization operating in the Gaza Strip, claimed responsibility for a rocket strike on southern Israel.
In response to rocket fire launched at Israel on May 25, the Israel Air Force attacked two Hamas terrorist infrastructure targets in the Gaza Strip.Adam Rasgon and Jerusalem Post Staff contributed to this report.