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Erdoğan vows to defend Palestinian cause against all odds

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Nobody can question Türkiye’s sensitivity to the Palestinian struggle for freedom, the president declared, reiterating unconditional support for Gaza, where he said Israel has ‘outdone the Nazis’

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at Parliament, Ankara, Türkiye, April 17, 2024. (AA Photo)
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan speaks at Parliament, Ankara, Türkiye, April 17, 2024. (AA Photo)

In the sixth month of Israel’s relentless military campaign in the Gaza Strip, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has vowed to defend the Palestinian cause “even if I am left alone.”

“By killing over 14,000 innocent children in Gaza, Israel has already outdone Nazi leader Adolf Hitler,” Erdoğan told his ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) parliamentary meeting in Ankara on Wednesday.

He once again hit out at the “unconditional support from the West” for Israel, which he said was helping Israel “carry out massacres that went down shamefully in human history, both in Gaza, West Bank.”

Erdoğan has harshly criticized Israel and accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of committing a “massacre” since the latter launched a deadly military offensive on Gaza after an Oct. 7 cross-border attack led by Palestinian resistance group Hamas, in which some 1,200 Israelis were killed.

Comparing Hamas’ struggle to the Turkish War of Independence 100 years ago, Erdoğan said, “We are well aware of the cost of saying this but the world must know the truth.”

Stressing that no one can question Türkiye’s sensitivity to the Palestinian issue, Erdoğan said that the Palestinian cause gave his life new meaning.

“I will fight for the Palestinian cause and be the voice of oppressed Palestinian people even if I am left alone,” he declared.

Erdoğan’s government maintains links with Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. Unlike some European countries and the United States, Türkiye does not classify Hamas as a terrorist organization.

“We are the only ones who have been brave enough to call Hamas a liberation movement,” the president added. “Despite those who try to pander to Israel by classifying Hamas as terrorists, Türkiye will continue defending Palestine’s struggle for independence at every turn.”

Erdoğan also said he would host Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh this Saturday in Istanbul to discuss “a number of issues.”

Ankara has been in touch with Hamas over the worsening humanitarian situation in Gaza, Israel’s lawless attacks, a cease-fire and hostage release discussions. It has also sent its condolences to Haniyeh after he lost three of his sons and some of his grandchildren while visiting relatives at a refugee camp in Gaza last week.

Nearly 33,800 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have since been killed in Gaza and nearly 76,500 have been injured amid mass destruction and shortages of necessities.

The Israeli war has pushed 85% of Gaza’s population into internal displacement amid a crippling blockade of most food, clean water and medicine, while 60% of the enclave’s infrastructure has been damaged or destroyed, according to the U.N.

Israel is accused of genocide at the International Court of Justice, which in January issued an interim ruling ordering Tel Aviv to ensure its forces do not commit acts of genocide and guarantee that humanitarian assistance is provided to civilians in Gaza.

Türkiye recently announced a series of restrictions on exports to Israel and said they would continue until Tel Aviv lets humanitarian aid in the blockaded enclave.

Hamas, which is believed to be holding more than 130 Israeli hostages, demands an end to Israel’s ongoing onslaught on Gaza in return for any hostage deal with Tel Aviv.

Post-election change

Turning to domestic politics, Erdoğan also promised sweeping changes and self-criticism at the AK Party “in line with people’s demands” after the party suffered its first loss since 2001 in the March 31 local elections.

“Turkish people undoubtedly asked us to do a comprehensive, sincere and bold self-criticism on March 31 and the AK Party owes them to read the message correctly,” Erdoğan told a cheering crowd of party members assembled for the first time since the local polls.

“Our distinctive quality is that we can analyze our rights and wrongs and realize the necessary development per the criticism and demands of our people,” he added.

The ruling party won 74 mayoral seats in total on March 31, including for 28 metropolitan cities but it ceded 14 of the 22 cities it won in the 2019 elections to the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).

Although the AK Party has won 54.3% of all metropolitan and district mayoral posts across Türkiye’s 81 provinces thanks to its alliance with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), the CHP won 35 of Türkiye’s 81 provincial capitals, including Istanbul and Ankara, managing to take the lead in polls for the first time in decades.

Erdoğan has since acknowledged the failure to achieve success, the necessity for self-criticism and assured sweeping changes were due at his party. He has ordered his members to set up a council that will investigate and bring back to him a report outlining the causes of the party’s loss of voter support.

The party is also expected to produce a new winning formula, a new road map for its lawmakers and return to its reformist roots.

“Whatever comes out of the ballot box is valid and must be respected,” Erdoğan said.

He bemoaned the deep plunge in voter turnout, which was down by almost 5 million people to 78.1% from 84.7% in 2019 and 86.9% in the 2023 elections, making it the lowest-participating local election in the past 20 years.

“This low participation has also affected our party’s votes. The willpower of nearly 16 million didn’t reflect in the elections,” Erdoğan pointed out, promising the AK Party would “correctly read” why so many citizens opted not to vote.

According to preliminary surveys from the parties so far, economic conditions, fatigue from back-to-back elections and dissatisfaction with mayoral candidates were the main causes of voter abstention.

Erdoğan also blasted his opposition for “playing dirty games” over Hatay, one of the 11 southern provinces hit hardest by the February earthquakes last year.

After losing the city to AK Party candidate Mehmet Öntürk by a narrow margin, the CHP demanded a recount and repeat of the vote, accusing the province of accepting votes from dead people.

“The CHP has demonstrated its indigestion of national willpower once again through unimaginable lies,” Erdoğan said, noting that his party would soon visit Hatay to thank them for their “firm stance.”

“Reviving the earthquake zone will remain our top priority,” he added.