Ankara, (Today’s Zaman): Thousands of Turkish citizens took to the streets on Thursday night and Friday in various provinces to denounce Israel’s deadly ground offensive in the Gaza Strip.
Israel ordered a ground offensive in Gaza late on Thursday after a 10-day campaign of aerial strikes on the coastal strip. At least 20 Palestinians have been killed since the ground offensive began, bringing the combined death toll from the 11-day campaign to over 265.
The protests spread across Turkey after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Friday that he had ordered the Israeli military to prepare for a “significant expansion” of its ground operation against Gaza.
Hundreds of protesters gathered around the Fatih Mosque in İstanbul after Friday prayers to condemn the Israeli violence. The protesters initially performed funeral prayers for Gazans killed by the Israeli forces. They later marched towards Saraçhane Park, waving Palestinian flags and chanting anti-Israeli slogans.
Police in İstanbul and Ankara boosted security around the Israeli Embassy and Consulate General after a night of protests.
Riot police, backed by water cannons, or TOMAs, guarded the Israeli Consulate in İstanbul, which was pelted by stones on Thursday night. During the protest, police fired tear gas and water cannons to disperse the angry demonstrators, who chanted “Murderer Israel, get out of Palestine,” and smashed consulate windows with sticks and rocks.
Graffiti reading “Die out murderer Jew” was scrawled on the wall across from the consulate.
Protesters also threw rocks and raised Palestinian flags outside the Israeli Embassy in the capital of Ankara, where police did not intervene. Windows of the building were broken, news reports said.
Police blocked off a street where a building that is used as the official residence of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara is located with road barriers. Riot police backed by TOMAs were also deployed in the street.
Israel, in response, said it was reducing its number of diplomats in Turkey and ordered families of Israeli diplomats to return. The Israeli Foreign Ministry accused Turkish police of failing to provide adequate protection for Israel’s embassy and consulate.
Diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel were already downgraded after the Israeli raid of the Turkish aid ship Mavi Marmara in 2010. The Israeli ambassador in Ankara was expelled in the course of the crisis.
A protest in front of the Israeli ambassador’s residence, which began at 1:30 a.m. on Friday, was joined by lawmakers from the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party) and the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP).
Parliament was debating a package of legislation when news of the Israeli ground offensive came. Acting Parliament Speaker Sadık Yakut announced that the parliamentary session was adjourned after a meeting with the acting parliamentary group chairmen of all parties represented in Parliament, following which a number of deputies left to join the protest in front of the Israeli residence.
“Israel has turned the Palestinian territories into a bloodbath,” AK Party deputy Murat Yıldırım told the crowd. CHP deputy Mahmut Tanal described Israel as a “rogue state” and said “rogue states should be taught a lesson.”
Also on Friday a group of protesters wanted to perform Friday prayers in front of the Israeli Embassy. Clashes erupted between the police and the group after police did not allow the group to protest in front of the embassy. The group chanted slogans “Murderer Israel, murderer ambassador, get out of Turkey.” The group later dispersed after issuing a statement in which it declared that anti-Israeli protests would continue in Turkey until Israel stops its offensive against Palestinians.
Another group of protesters gathered in Cumhuriyet Square in the Central Anatolian city of Kayseri to denounce the Israeli violence. The protesters carried banners that read “Down with Israel” and chanted anti-Israeli slogans.
In Konya, a group of Felicity Party (SP) supporters convened in Zafer Square to show solidarity with Gazans. The group, in a press release, called on the Muslim world not to remain silent in the face of Israeli violence.
In Kahramanmaraş, a group of 300 people gathered in front of Ulu Camii (mosque). They initially performed funeral prayers for Gazans killed by Israeli forces. They later chanted anti-Israeli slogans to condemn the ongoing bloodshed in Palestine. Memduh Kayıklık, who spoke on behalf of the group, said Israel has been pursuing a violent policy against Muslims since 1940. “It is saddening and thought-provoking to see that the world remains inactive in the face of growing Israeli violence. The entire world stands up when a Christian or Jew is killed. But it just watches when large groups of Muslims are killed,” he noted.