Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu charged Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday with slaughter in the northern Syrian city of Afrin, taking off his gloves and responding in kind to Erdogan’s sharp criticism of Israel’s reaction to Friday’s march in Gaza.
“Erdogan is not used to people responding to him, but he should start getting used to it,” Netanyahu said. “Anyone who occupies northern Cyprus, invades the Kurdish strip and slaughters citizens in Afrin, should not lecture us about values and ethics.” On January 20, Turkey began a cross-border military operation against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) in Afrin, an operation for which Turkey has come under widespread international criticism.The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported that 289 civilians have been killed since Ankara began this military operation. Other estimates put that number as high as 510, amid allegations of indiscriminate Turkish artillery fire. There have also been reports of Turkish border guards shooting refugees fleeing the fighting and seeking shelter inside Turkey.Netanyahu’s statement was the latest in an angry ping-pong with Erdogan, who on Saturday was withering in his criticism of Israel – as he has been for years.“I strongly condemn the Israeli government over its inhumane attack,” Erdogan said of Friday’s incidents along the Gaza border. “Have you heard any noteworthy objections to the massacre by Israel that happened yesterday in Gaza from those who criticize the Afrin operation? This is the biggest proof of insincerity of those who fixate on us but say nothing about Israel using heavy weapons to attack people who are protesting on their own lands.”Although for the most part Netanyahu has in the past ignored these types of statements from Erdogan, this time he opted to respond, saying on Sunday morning that Erdogan’s remarks were apparently an April Fools’ joke.“The most moral army in the world,” Netanyahu tweeted about the IDF, “will not be lectured to by someone who for years has indiscriminately bombed civilian populations. Apparently, this is the way they mark April Fools’ Day in Ankara.”Erdogan, who has made strident anti-Israel comments into one of the trademarks of his rule – and who hosts Hamas offices in Turkey – replied to Netanyahu’s tweet by calling Israel a “terrorist state and occupier,” and Netanyahu a “terrorist.”According to Turkey’s English daily Sabah, Erdogan – speaking at a meeting of his ruling Justice and Development Party in the southern province of Adana – said, “I do not need to tell the world how cruel the Israeli army is. We can see what this terror state is doing by looking at the situation in Gaza and Jerusalem.”Israel, he said, “has carried out a massacre in Gaza and Netanyahu is a terrorist.”According to the Hurriyet Daily News, Erdogan said of Netanyahu, “He says our soldiers are oppressing people in Afrin. Netanyahu, you are very weak, very poor.”Erdogan said that Turkey is “dealing with terrorists. But you are not concerned about terrorists because you are a terror state.”The Turkish president continued: “You are not popular... Stop bragging about owning nuclear weapons. The time may come when those weapons don’t work.”Though for years Netanyahu took Erdogan’s insults about Israel without getting into a tit-for-tat confrontation, of late he has changed this pattern.For example, after Erdogan led the chorus of those condemning the US for recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in December – and criticizing how Jerusalem handled Palestinian protests at the time – Netanyahu said: “I am not used to receiving lectures about morality from the leader who bombs Kurdish villagers in his native Turkey, who jails journalists, who helps Iran go around international sanctions, and who helps terrorists, including in Gaza, kill innocent people. That is not the man who is going to lecture us.”
Palestinians mark "Land Day" with protests on Israel-Gaza border (Reuters)