Thousands in Istanbul demonstrate in support of the Palestinians - See the photos


Thousands of people rallied in Istanbul on Sunday to support the Palestinians as Israel's army massed troops ahead of a large-scale ground operation in the northern Gaza Strip after a week of shelling.

"They have been turning people away for years. Now, they don't kill them one every day; they kill them en masse. This is what Israel is doing, and we are protesting against it," said Bayram Atabay, a 30-year-old trader attending a rally called for by a radical Islamist group close to the ruling AKP.

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Demonstrations also took place on Friday and Saturday to denounce the policies of Israel, whose leadership says it is determined to eliminate Hamas after the Palestinian Islamist movement's surprise attack on the Jewish state, the deadliest ever carried out on Israeli soil.

On Saturday, thousands of supporters of the Palestinians, among them the son of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and one of his sons-in-law – the popular Selçuk Bayraktar, co-managing director of drone manufacturer Baykar – marched from Istanbul's Grand Bazaar to Hagia Sophia.

"We can't go there (...), so we came here to show them that we are on their side," explained Zeynep Ravzouglu, an eighteen-year-old student in the middle of the crowd, under Palestinian flags.

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Erdoğan, who in his two decades in power has repeatedly taken a stand in favour of the Palestinians, notably facing former Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Davos forum in 2009, ended the severance of diplomatic relations with Israel last year after more than a decade.

The Turkish head of state even met Benjamin Netanyahu for the first time in September on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.

Despite restoring diplomatic relations, the Turkish president strongly condemned "the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians in Gaza" this week, saying Israel "is not behaving like a state."

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Speaking to the members of his ruling AK Party in parliament on Wednesday, Erdoğan said even war had a “morality” but the flare-up since the weekend had “very severely” violated that.

“Preventing people meeting their most fundamental needs and bombing housing where civilians live – in short, conducting a conflict using every sort of shameful method – is not a war, it’s a massacre,” he said, referring to Israel cutting off electricity and water to Gaza and destroying infrastructure.

“We openly oppose the killing of civilians on Israeli territories. Likewise, we can never accept the massacre of defenceless innocents in Gaza by indiscriminate, constant bombardments,” Erdoğan said.

The Turkish president said Israel’s repressive policies towards the Palestinians lay at the heart of the conflict.

“Israel should not forget that if it acts like an organisation, not as a state, it will eventually come to be seen like one,” he said.

Erdoğan criticised Israel’s “disproportionate” attacks on Gaza as “devoid of any ethical foundation”, and called on the world not to “blindly” take one side. Leaving the underlying issue unresolved would lead to new, more violent conflicts, he warned.

“We call on countries in the Americas, Europe, and other regions to take up a position between the parties that is fair, just, and based on humanitarian balances. Everyone should refrain from acts that will wholly punish the Palestinian people, like blocking humanitarian aid,” he said.

Turkey, which has backed Palestinians in the past and hosted members of Hamas, has been working to mend ties with Israel after years of animosity. Unlike the European Union and the United States, Turkey does not consider Hamas a “terrorist” organisation.

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