Erdo?an told reporters in a plane en route to Ankara from Islamabad on Thursday that he doesn’t believe Hamas will violate the terms of the truce unless Israel resumes bombing. When asked if he is planning to visit Gaza, Erdo?an said, “I could go unexpectedly.”
Eight days of punishing Israeli air strikes on Gaza and a barrage of Hamas rocket fire on Israel ended inconclusively on Wednesday. While Israel said it inflicted heavy damage on the militants, Gaza’s Hamas rulers claimed that Israel’s decision not to send in ground troops, as it had four years ago, was a sign of a new deterrent power held by Hamas.
However, the vague language of the agreement announced Wednesday and deep hostility between the combatants made it far from certain the bloodshed would end or that either side will get everything it wants. Israel seeks an end to weapons smuggling into Gaza, while Hamas wants a complete lifting of the border blockade imposed in 2007, after the group’s takeover of Gaza.
Israeli officials also made it clear that their position had not warmed toward Hamas, which they view as a terrorist group aligned with their archenemy Iran and pledged to the destruction of the Jewish state.
Israel launched the offensive Nov. 14 to halt renewed rocket fire from Gaza, unleashing some 1,500 air strikes on Hamas-linked targets, while Hamas and other Gaza militants showered Israel with just as many rockets.
The eight days of fighting killed 161 Palestinians, including 71 civilians. Six Israelis, two soldiers and four civilians, were killed and dozens others wounded by rockets fired into residential neighborhoods.
Erdo?an claimed that Turkey, Egypt and Qatar made the most effective diplomatic overtures in ending the eight-day fighting in Gaza and the states decided to conduct the diplomacy under the leadership of Egypt. He added that these countries had made many efforts to secure the truce but nothing could be done until US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton arrived in Israel on Tuesday.
The latest round of fighting brought the countries in the region unprecedented political recognition, with foreign ministers from Turkey and several Arab states visiting — a sharp contrast to Hamas’s past isolation.
Israel and the United States, even while formally sticking to a policy of shunning Hamas, also acknowledged its central role by engaging in indirect negotiations with them.
Egypt emerged as the pivotal mediator, raising its stature as a regional power.
Erdo?an also criticized the position of US President Barack Obama, who backed Israel in its Gaza operation and blocked a Security Council resolution that condemned the violence from both sides of the conflict.
Erdo?an said Ankara was expecting a fairer approach to the Israeli-Palestinian crisis and slammed the US administration for its inaction on Syria. He added that Washington had not displayed a “serious position” on Syria as the 20-month long uprising in the country wreaked havoc in many cities, destroyed infrastructure and left up to 40,000 people dead, mostly civilians.
Syria’s civil war has left Turkey the target of artillery and mortar fire. Syria is believed to have several hundred ballistic surface-to-surface missiles in its arsenal capable of carrying chemical warheads.
Turkey recently requested advanced PAC-3 model Patriots from NATO, which Germany, the Netherlands and the US have for intercepting ballistic missiles.
NATO said on Wednesday it will consider Turkey’s request “without delay,” and next week a NATO team will visit the alliance member for a site survey to consider a deployment. Officials say the Patriots would probably be sent by sea.
With events in Syria changing rapidly, and deaths already having occurred on the Turkish side of the border, the wait may leave NATO-member Turkey anxious about its vulnerability to air raids or even chemical attack from across the border.
President Bashar al-Assad’s embattled regime is believed to have one of the largest chemical weapons stockpiles in the world. Fears have risen that a cornered Assad might use them or that they could fall into the hands of extremists, including al-Qaeda-inspired militants among the rebels.
Speaking to reporters in Pakistan on Thursday, Erdo?an said Thursday that the deployment was for defensive purposes only.
“This is a measure being taken against certain possible attacks from [the Syrian] side,” Erdo?an said.
But in Moscow, Russia’s Foreign Ministry warned Turkey against using the Patriots for “muscle flexing.”
“The militarization of the Syrian-Turkish border is an alarming signal,” spokesman Alexander Lukashevich said. “We have different advice for our Turkish colleagues — to use their influence with the Syrian opposition to accelerate the start of a political dialogue.”
In Zurich on Thursday, NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said the deployment of the Patriot missiles, which can be used to intercept missiles or planes, would “serve as a deterrent to possible enemies even thinking of attacks” and help “preserve stability along our southern borders.” The move would be “purely defensive,” he said.
Rasmussen voiced great concern about the situation on the Turkish-Syrian border and said “the Turks are increasingly worried about the situation.”
Turkey has repeatedly scrambled fighter jets along the frontier and responded in kind to stray shells flying into its territory during the conflict in Syria, where tens of thousands of people have been killed since an uprising against Assad’s government began in March 2011.
Russia has vetoed three UN Security Council resolutions aimed at putting pressure on Assad and accuses the West of encouraging militants fighting his government.
Erdo?an, en route to Ankara on Thursday, reiterated that the Patriot missiles are only for defense purposes and criticized Russia for its remarks on the missile system. “Russia is trying to make a matter irrelevant to itself its own domestic affair,” Erdo?an stressed.
The Turkish prime minister also criticized Iran for its steadfast support of the Assad regime and said they are backing the regime of the war-torn country “without having faith” and that they cannot take steps back from their firm position.
Speaking about the escalating conflict between the Turkish military and the terrorist Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Erdo?an said Ankara believes a solution to the matter is possible if the terrorist organization lays down its arms. He said if terrorists lay down their arms, even though they are ineligible for amnesty within Turkey, they could leave for another country.
Erdo?an also touched on the issue of Turkey shifting to a presidential system and said nearly half of the nation’s people want the presidential system, without citing any specific surveys.