Turkey erupts in protest at Israeli commando raid on Gaza aid ship

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Tens of thousands took to the streets as mass protests swept Turkey today after Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish aid ship, killing more than ten people.

Riot police prevented enraged protesters from storming the Israeli Consulate in Istanbul before thousands gathered for an impromptu rally at the city’s main Taksim Square, which became a sea of Palestinian flags.

Demonstrators chanted slogans including “Killer Israel will pay the price” and “God is Great” and “We are all Palestinians now” as Israeli flags were cut apart and burnt. Angry scenes continued around the city until the evening.

The Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, condemned the shootings on the aid flotilla, which was sailing for Gaza in defiance of Israel’s three-year blockade of the territory, as “state terrorism”

“This action, totally contrary to the principles of international law, is inhumane state terrorism,” Mr Erdogan told reporters in Chile, where he cut short a tour of Latin America to return to Turkey. “I’d like to address those who supported this operation, ‘You support bloodshed and we support peace, humanity and law’.”

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel and cancelled joint military exercises with the Jewish state.

The Foreign Ministry said that the attack would have “irredeemable consequences” for Turkish-Israeli bilateral relations.

“Whatever Israel’s reasons are, it is impossible to accept such an action against civilians carrying out peaceful activities. Israel will have to put up with the consequences of this violation of the international law.”

Protestors at the Istanbul demonstrations espressed solidarity with the Palestinian people and demanded action from the Government.

Bilal Abdulazizoglu, 60, a retired trader, told The Times that his nephew was on the flotilla but had sent him a text message saying that he was safe.

He said that the boats held “innocent people who couldn’t defend themselves”.

“I hate what Israel has done, not only now, but what they’ve done before,” he said. “Since 1946 Israel has taken the Palestinian people’s land and they have been torturing them in different ways ever since.

“I’m expecting a physical response to this from the Government. We did not attack them. They attacked us. Turkey must get those ships back.”

Asalet Arslan, 27, an urban planner, said: “I realise anger doesn’t solve any problems but I’m annoyed that the UN isn’t intervening in this situation. If it was another country attacking the ships then the UN would intervene.

“This is a big attack on us. It will really affect things very badly. Whether they’re Muslim, secular or atheist, people in Turkey hate Israel now.”

The shootings on the Blue Marmara, the largest ship in the flotilla, which was sailing under a Turkish flag and carrying about 400 Turkish citizens has shocked the country.

Soli Ozel, Professor of International Relations and Political Science at Bilgi University in Istanbul, told The Times that there was no comparable incident since the 1920s in which Turkish civilians have been killed by foreign military forces.

“At the end of the day Turkish citizens have been killed by Israeli gunfire and that’s as serious as you can get,” he said. “It’s extraordinary as can be seen by the mass demonstrations in every city in the country.”

For years Turkey and Israel have been close political and military allies, and Israel has been a key supplier of arms to Turkey. The country is also the single most popular foreign destination for Israeli tourists.

Since Mr Erdogan came to power as the head of the AK Party, which has roots in political Islam, ties between the two nations have started to sour.

Last year the Prime Minister stormed off stage at the Davos World Economic Forum after a heated argument with President Peres of Israel in which he criticised the Israeli offensive in Gaza in 2008.

Turkish commentators believe that the latest incident could mark a watershed in relations between the two countries.

Yigit Bulut, editor-in-chief of the Haberturk TV station, said: “This morning Turkey was forced to take sides in a thousand-year-old struggle. Turkey has always stayed away from this struggle.”

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