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Turkey expels Israeli ambassador amid international outrage over Gaza killings

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ISTANBUL — Turkey’s government on Tuesday ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave the country, retaliating for Israel’s killing of dozens of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip and underscoring the growing international fallout from the bloodshed.

The ambassador, Eitan Naeh, was told by Turkey’s foreign minister that it would be “appropriate” if he returned to Israel “for a while,” according to Turkey’s semiofficial Anadolu news agency, citing unnamed sources. Hours later, Israel’s Foreign Ministry said it had summoned Turkey’s consul general to Jerusalem and advised him to return to his country — also “for a while.”

The Turkish decision marked one of the strongest diplomatic responses after Monday’s deadly confrontations along the border fence separating Israel and Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade. At least 60 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, Gaza officials said.

Turkey’s move also set off a testy war of words between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who traded insults on Twitter.     

The diplomatic pressures on Israel, which has been harshly criticized for its use of live ammunition against the protesters, also grew on other fronts as officials around the world denounced the Gaza killings and called for inquiries. In Paris, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the situation in the Middle East as increasingly “explosive.”

Kuwait’s ambassador to the United Nations, Mansour al-Otaibi, said he planned Wednesday to propose a U.N. Security Council resolution on “protection of the Palestinian civilians.” He said the plan does not include peacekeeping forces, but he gave few other details. Any possible Security Council action against Israel probably would face a veto by the United States.

A draft statement circulated late Monday would have expressed the Security Council’s “outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest” and would have called for a “transparent” investigation. But the United States blocked it.

Palestinian protests flare again

Turkey maintains diplomatic ties with Israel, but relations have been severely strained in recent years over issues including the treatment of Palestinians.  

In 2010, Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish-operated passenger vessel, the Mavi Marmara, that was on a course to breach Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. The raid killed nine activists.

On Monday, thousands of Turks attended a protest in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Turkish officials announced that Turkey’s ambassadors to Israel and the United States were being recalled for consultations in protest over the Gaza killings. 

Erdogan, speaking during a trip to Britain, called the Gaza killings “a genocide.” 

“They are not committing this genocide for the first time,” he said, adding that the killings “have shown the ugly face of Israel.” 

A Turkish government minister and spokesman, Bekir Bozdag, also accused Israel’s most powerful ally, the United States, of helping fuel Palestinian outrage by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Palestinians want part of the city to become the capital of a future state.

“The blood of innocent Palestinians is on the hands of the United States,” Bozdag told parliament, according to the Associated Press. “The United States is part of the problem, not the solution.”

Reacting on Twitter, Netanyahu said: “Erdogan is among Hamas’s biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest he not preach morality to us.” Hamas is a Palestinian militant organization that controls the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s education minister, Naftali Bennett, also writing on Twitter, called on Israelis to cancel trips to Turkey, a popular holiday spot.

“Israel will no longer hold back from defending its honor and will safeguard its borders and citizens,” he wrote.  

Eli Shaked, a former diplomat who served as Israel’s consul general in Istanbul and chargé d’affaires in Ankara, called relations between Turkey and Israel “anything but normal.”

“Especially since President Erdogan was elected, the relations are very tense, with many ups and downs, whenever there is a small or a big crisis between Israel and Palestinians in general — and the Palestinians in Gaza in particular,” he said.  

But recent complaints in Turkey about Israel’s actions have come from not only Erdogan and his supporters, but from figures across the political spectrum as they prepare for upcoming parliamentary and presidential elections. The relative unity of the message suggested, to some degree, that the anger over the killings in Gaza resonated with the Turkish public.  

Muharrem Ince, a presidential candidate with Turkey’s main opposition party, vowed to travel to Gaza if elected. “The republic of Turkey must act with good sense while Muslims are being killed in Palestine,” he said.

Eglash reported from Jerusalem.  Brian Murphy in Washington contributed to this report. 

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