'Turkish foreign minister: Erdogan will not visit Gaza'

Turkish daily reports Davutoglu said Israel "endangering itself with increasing isolation"; Erdogan will visit Tunisia, Libya, Egypt.

Tayyip Erdogan 311 (photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Tayyip Erdogan 311
(photo credit: REUTERS/Murad Sezer)
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to travel to Egypt on Monday on the first leg of what the Turkish media is calling his “Arab Spring Tour,” amid concern in Jerusalem he will use the visit to further bash Israel and try to drive the current wedge between Israel and Egypt even deeper.
From Israel’s standpoint the visit itself is not a problem, one diplomatic official said, the problem is that Erdogan will likely “try to spin it against Israel.”
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There is also concern that he will try to use the trip to build an alliance with Egypt against Israel.
At the same time, it does not seem that Erdogan will carry out his threat to visit Gaza from Egypt, with the Turkish website Today’s Zaman reporting that Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Sunday that following Egypt, Erdogan was going to Libya and Tunisia, but that his trip would be limited to those countries.
Nevertheless, the website reported that Hamas’s Ismail Haniyeh said on Sunday that preparations for Erdogan’s visit were still taking place. In an interview with the Anatolia news agency, Haniyeh praised Turkish sanctions against Israel, calling them “a great support for the people of Palestine and the Palestinian cause.”
Israeli officials said it was unlikely Erdogan would visit Gaza, because such a visit – and meetings with Hamas leaders – would do more damage to Turkey’s position in the US, than it would hurt Israel. The officials also said that such a move would also be frowned upon by the Palestinian Authority.
The officials noted the irony that Erdogan, who for the last several years was a major backer of Syrian President Bashar Assad, and who in December received the Gaddafi International Prize for humanitarian rights award, was now touring the Arab world as if he were the leader of the Muslim world and still a bridge to the west. In December Erdogan said receiving the Gaddafi award would strengthen and support his struggle for human rights.
Meanwhile, Friday’s report in Yediot Aharonot that Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman was preparing a basket of possible responses to Turkish actions against Israel, including the possibility of supporting the Kurdish PKK fighting the Turks, predictably raised Turkish ire, even though Lieberman denied the report in a Channel 2 interview on Saturday.
According to Today’s Zaman, Davutoglu said Sunday that Lieberman’s “alleged words come at a time when a battle against terrorism is being fought on a global scale. One cannot make distinctions between terrorist organizations. We are hoping that Israel will also back up its denial of the alleged plans [to support the PKK] through its actions.”
Davutoglu said that Turkey would not be blackmailed.
“Support extended to the PKK by Israel or any other country whoever they may be will be reciprocated equally,” Davutoglu reportedly said.
Today’s Zaman also quoted Turkey’s parliament speaker Cemil Çiçek as saying Sunday that “It’s very troubling that someone with the rank of minister should make such irresponsible remarks.”
“The things with which Turkey has been struggling is not only ethnic and separatist terror. With these statements, it is becoming clear who is and will be behind these [terrorists]. We know that these irresponsible mentalities have a role in shedding the blood of martyrs and in the flowing of tears.”
Israel has for years avoided all contact with Kurdish leaders because of the fear of infuriating the Turks.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told Likud ministers Sunday to be “restrained” in what they say about Turkey, and expressed the hope that “we can stabilize the situation.” Without going into details, he said nobody was “giving up on trying to stabilize relations with Turkey.”
Nevertheless, Channel 2 reported that diplomatic cables have been sent to Jerusalem in recent days warning that that among other steps Erdogan was considering were barring Israeli ships form Turkish ports; unspecified action against Israeli businesses in Turkey; not paying some $350 million that Turkish businesses owe Israeli companies; expelling the Israeli consul-general in Istanbul; launching a diplomatic campaign to get the world to recognize Hamas; and turning the Israel Atomic Energy Agency against Israel’s nuclear program.
Referring to the developments in the region, Netanyahu reportedly told the ministers there was no need for self-flagellation, and that the events in the region – including the developments with Turkey and Egypt – were not connected to Israel and the diplomatic process with the Palestinians.
Defense Minister Ehud Barak, meanwhile, asked in the cabinet for an in-depth discussion in the government to be held to deal with Israel’s diplomatic situation: the worsening ties with Egypt and Turkey, the lack of negotiations with the Palestinians, and Israel’s increasing isolation. He reportedly wants to bring into the discussion relevant intelligence and security bodies saying that what is needed is an Israeli diplomatic initiative to improve the situation.
In a related development, National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau said Sunday Israel will develop and defend gas platforms recently discovered in its waters. His comments follow Turkish threats to boost naval patrols in the eastern Mediterranean.
“Israel can support and secure the rigs that we are going to have in the Mediterranean,” Landau said at security conference when asked if Israel would safeguard the gas platforms after the warship challenge floated last week by Erdogan.
Reuters contributed to this report.