Ankara, Mar 13 (AFP) Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Wednesday blasted Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu as a "tyrant" who "massacred" Palestinian children as the two leaders exchanged insults in their latest spat. Erdogan was responding to earlier comments from Netanyahu who slammed the Turkish leader as a "dictator" and "a joke", after a day of tit-for-tat exchanges between government officials in both countries.
Turkey and Israel have tense relations and Erdogan, who regards himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, is a vocal critic of Israeli policies. The two leaders have exchanged barbs in the past over Gaza. "Hey Netanyahu, behave yourself. You are a tyrant, you are a tyrant who massacred seven-year-old Palestinian children," Erdogan told a rally of supporters in the Turkish capital Ankara.
Erdogan also referred to clashes between Israeli police and Palestinians in Jerusalem, denouncing Israeli security forces for entering a "holy place". "Do not provoke. Look, we have not oppressed any of the Jews in this country. We have not done anything you did to any synagogues here. Don't provoke us. We will not fall into this trap."
Netanyahu swiftly hit back on Twitter later Wednesday. "Erdogan, the dictator who sends tens of thousands of political opponents to prison, commits genocide against the Kurds, and occupies Northern Cyprus, preaches to me, to Israel, and to the Israel Defense Forces, about democracy and the ethics of war. A joke," Netanyahu wrote.
"It's best that he doesn't get involved with Jerusalem, our capital for 3,000 years. Erdogan can only learn from us how to respect every religion and protect human rights." The latest exchange came after Netanyahu called Israel the nation-state of "the Jewish people" only, not all its citizens. That comment prompted Turkey on Tuesday to accuse the Israeli leader of "blatant racism".
Netanyahu struck back in a statement from his office early Wednesday, calling Erdogan a "dictator" . This spurred Turkish presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin to accuse Netanyahu of attacking Erdogan "for exposing him" after the Israeli premier's "racist remarks" towards Arabs and Muslims.
"The apartheid state he leads occupies Palestinian lands, kills women & children & imprisons Palestinians in their own land," Kalin wrote on Twitter. The two countries in 2016 ended a six-year rift triggered by the Israeli storming of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead and led to a downgrading of diplomatic ties.
Netanyahu has been accused by critics of demonising Israeli Arabs, who make up some 17.5 percent of the population, in a bid to boost right-wing turnout for April elections. After the polls, Netanyahu will face a hearing to defend himself against corruption allegations which have dogged his campaign.
"That robber at the helm of Israel is currently on trial in his country," Erdogan said of the Israeli leader. Netanyahu is facing a tough challenge from a centrist political alliance led by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz and ex-finance minister Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu's initial comment that sparked the tiff came during an online spat triggered by Israel's right-wing firebrand culture minister Miri Regev. Regev, a member of Netanyahu's right-wing Likud party, had warned voters not to support its main rival because it would ally with Israeli Arab parties -- a highly unlikely scenario.
Israeli model and actress Rotem Sela responded on Instagram, asking: "When the hell will someone in this government convey to the public that Israel is a state of all its citizens and that all people were created equal?" Netanyahu reacted with his own Instagram post, telling Sela: "Israel is not a state of all its citizens." "According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people -- and only it," he said, referring to a deeply controversial piece of legislation passed by his right-wing government last year.
Israeli Hollywood actress Gal Gadot jumped to Sela's defence. "Love your neighbour as yourself," the star of "Wonder Woman" wrote on Instagram late Sunday. (AFP) SCY SCY