Ayatollah lauds Turkish PM's public stance against Gaza op; Erdogan: I could've mediated to free Schalit.
By JPOST.COM STAFF
A senior Iranian cleric called on Sunday for Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his 'courageous act' at the World Economic Forum in which he and President Shimon Peres faced off over the situation with the Gaza Strip, the Iranian state radio IRNA reported.
According to the report, Ayatollah Naser Makerem-Shirazi told a group of theological students that Erdogan had taken a "decisive and crushing" stand against the "atrocities of the Zionist regime in the occupied lands."
On Thursday, while the two were on stage at the forum in Davos, Switzerland, the Turkish leader lashed out at Peres over the "barbaric acts" committed by Israel during its three-week operation in the Gaza Strip. Peres then spent 20 minutes explaining the Israeli position, which Erdogan then tried to challenge again. When the moderator told the Turkish prime minister to limit his response to two minutes, the premier got mad and walked off stage.
Meanwhile, in an interview with Newsweek magazine published online Saturday, Erdogan said that Hamas was a political party, not an "arm of Iran," and that "if the whole world had given them the chance of becoming a political player maybe they would not be in a situation like this after the elections that they won."
The Turkish prime minister went on to say that the "political will of the Palestinian people" had been ignored by the world, in that the international community fails to "respect" Hamas's legitimacy.
"Palestine today is an open-air prison," he said.
In the interview, which will appear in the February 9 issue of the magazine, Erdogan also spoke of indirect negotiations between Israel and Syria, which Turkey brokered last year. He said he was involved in "very intense telephone diplomacy" between Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Syrian President Bashar Assad. He segued into speaking of Hamas, saying that the group should have been involved in the Israel-Syria talks.
"Moreover during that talk, I said to Prime Minister Olmert that I believed I could be successful in freeing the kidnapped Israeli soldier Gilad Schalit," he added.
Erdogan said he told Olmert that Turkey could have mediated in order to secure Schalit's release and that Israel would have to free jailed Hamas leaders in return.
Ties have been particularly strained between Israel and Turkey recently due to Erdogan's criticism of IDF Operation Cast Lead in Gaza and his public spat with Peres.
During the Newsweek interview, Erdogan again slammed the Gaza operation, reiterating his previous accusations of a disproportionate response to Hamas rocket fire on Israel. He added, however, "I'm not saying that Hamas is a good organization and makes no mistakes. They have made mistakes, but I am evaluating the end result."
He went on to rebut criticism labeling his recent comments on Israel as anti-Semitic, saying "I have always declared that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanityâ€¦ my frustration is against the current Israeli government."
"Everything we have said is against the current Israeli government, nothing against Jews," he added.
"I have stated very clearly that anyone who even thinks about doing anything against the Jews in Turkey will find me against them," he said, quipping, "Of course, I'm not going to ask Olmert to write my speeches."
Asked if Turkey would continue to deal with Israel, he described the Jerusalem-Ankara relationship as "serious," but added "the current Israeli government should check itself."
Finally, answering a question on whether US President Barack Obama would "play a more even-handed role between the Palestinians and the Israelis," he said, "There is no justice right now. We expect justice from now on."
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni said Sunday that while Israel had important strategic ties with Turkey, it also had "difficult" disagreements with the country over several issues, including policies regarding Hamas.
Livni told Israel Radio that she expected Turkey to respect Israel's position despite "hard" pictures coming out of Gaza and the numerous anti-Israel demonstrations in the country.
var cont = `Stay Informed
As the war against Hamas unfolds, our unwavering newsroom remains committed to covering Israel's most profound crisis.
Sign up for our newsletter to get real-time news and in-depth analysis from our top reporters.