Turkish PM seeks Israel FM removal

Erdogan asks Israel to fire Avigdor Lieberman, its foreign minister, who is known for controversial public remarks.

    Israel's foreign minister, left, shakes hands with his Greek counterpart in Athens [Reuters]

    The prime minister of Turkey, whose ties with Israel have been badly strained over the past year, has called on Israel to remove its hawkish foreign minister.

    Recep Tayyip Erdogan told Al Jazeera in an interview broadcast on Wednesday that Avigdor Lieberman poses an obstacle to Middle East peace.

    Lieberman is a polarising figure in Israel and outside with his outspoken scepticism about peace with the Palestinians and his questioning of the loyalty of Israel's Arab minority.

    He once said Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian president, could "go to hell", has called for executing Israeli Arab lawmakers who met with Palestinian militant leaders and has advocated bombing Iran and Egypt.

    Erdogan called the Israeli minister "a problem at the head of Israel" in the interview.

    "Israelis must rid themselves [of Lieberman] and that is surely their duty and not ours," Erdogan said.

    He summarised that: "Netanyahu's government is the worst or the least fortunate in the history of Israel."

    Strained relations

    Israel and Turkey built strong military and economic ties over the past 15 years, and Turkey became Israel's closest ally in the Muslim world.

    The relationship between the two soured, however, with the Turkish government's increasingly vociferous criticism of Israel's treatment of Palestinians.

    Relations hit an all-time low in May, when Israeli naval commandos killed nine activists from Turkey on board an aid ship bound for the Gaza Strip that tried to breach Israel's naval blockade of the region.

    Israeli commandos said they opened fire in self-defence after meeting what they called unexpected resistance when they boarded Mavi Marmara carrying aid supplies to Gaza.

    Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Tel Aviv and Turkish leaders repeatedly denounced Israel over the raid. Turkey has made an Israeli apology and compensation for the victims' families a condition for improved ties.

    "When the Israelis meet these conditions we will reassess the situation," Erdogan said.

    The unravelling of relations with Turkey elicited some of Lieberman's characteristically blunt talk.

    He has likened Turkey to Iran on the eve of its 1979 Islamic revolution, and said it was difficult to distinguish any difference between the anti-Israel "vitriol" of the two countries' leaders today.

    He countered a Turkish demand for an Israeli apology for the raid with his own demand that the Turkish government apologise to Israel instead for "supporting terror".

    Erdogan wants Israel to end its land and naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. Israel and Egypt blockaded Gaza after Hamas seized control there in 2007.

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and agencies


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