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Israel-Turkey spat escalates over Gaza violence

May 16, 2018

Israeli ambassador to Turkey Eitan Na'eh, left, waits at Ataturk International Airport before his flight to Israel, in Istanbul, Wednesday, May 16, 2018. Turkey on Tuesday temporarily expelled Israel's ambassador in Ankara after he was called into the ministry, where Turkey relayed its condemnation of Israel's use of deadly force on Gaza protesters. (DHA-Depo Photos via AP)

JERUSALEM (AP) — Israel and Turkey exchanged diplomatic barbs Wednesday as the spat between the former allies escalated following deadly violence along Israel’s border with Gaza.

A day after it expelled the Israeli ambassador, Turkey asked Israel’s consul general in Istanbul to leave as well. Israel, in turn, summoned a top Turkish diplomat to be reprimanded for the humiliation of Israel’s ambassador as he was kicked out of the country.

The exchanges came less than two years after the countries reconciled and exchanged ambassadors after six years of animosity.

Once close allies in an Arab-dominated region, Israel and Turkey’s ties began to decline after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose party has roots in Turkey’s Islamist movement, first came to power as prime minister in 2003. Relations imploded in 2010 after a confrontation between Israeli commandos and a Turkish flotilla trying to breach the blockade of Gaza left 10 Turkish activists dead.

Erdogan has often lashed out at Israel over its clashes with Hamas militants in Gaza and he led the international criticism of Israel after nearly 60 Palestinians were killed Monday in the bloodiest day of cross-border violence since a devastating 2014 war between Israel and Hamas. He also ratcheted up his rhetoric against the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu retorted that a “man whose hands are drenched in the blood of countless Kurdish civilians in Turkey and Syria is the last one who can preach to us about military ethics.”

Netanyahu’s son, Yair, who has drawn criticism in the past for making crude social media posts, chimed in on Facebook.

“Turkey, you’re responsible to unbelievable atrocities and suffer to Cyprus, the Greek people, the Kurds and a genocide of the Armenians. Also I would like to remind the Turks that they’re a people coming from Central Asia, illegally occupying little Asia and Constantinople that was Christian before their invasion. So shut up!” he wrote.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry summoned a top Turkish diplomat Tuesday to reprimand him for Turkey’s treatment of Israeli ambassador Eitan Naeh. The ministry accused Turkey of subjecting Naeh to a particularly severe security screening at the airport in Istanbul and inviting local Turkish media to capture the humiliation of him being frisked and forced to remove his shoes and jacket.

In a video filmed by Dogan news agency’s reporter at Istanbul’s Ataturk International Airport, Naeh is seen being searched at a final checkpoint routinely used for flights to the United States, United Kingdom and Israel before boarding. The final passenger security control is carried out by Gozen Air Services on behalf of Turkish Airlines.

In the video, an airport security official pats the ambassador down. Naeh appears to be lifting his feet as the official squats. A man in plainclothes shadows the ambassador and three other officials look on as Naeh is searched.

Meanwhile, another passenger who is holding his shoes is also patted down. Naeh smiles and waves at the cameras as he heads to the boarding area.

The meeting in Jerusalem with the Turkish deputy ambassador, Umut Deniz, lasted about 20 minutes. He was asked to present his documents upon entering and made no comment to a crowd of reporters as he left the building. He then walked to a waiting van, slammed the door shut and it drove away.

Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said Israel expressed “our concern and our dismay at a gross violation of the diplomatic ethics.”

“The images of our ambassador being subjected to an unnecessary security check are spread all over Turkey,” he said. “This is something that is totally contrary to diplomatic relations between countries and a public humiliation of an ambassador is something that Israel will not accept under any circumstances.”

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Associated Press writer Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul contributed to this report.

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