Pro-Gaza protests in Turkey target Israeli consulate, McDonald’s – Ezgi Akin / AL-MONITOR

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As the bombing of a Gaza hospital sparked protests across Turkey, Israel has raised its travel warning to Turkey to the highest level.

October 18, 2023, Ezgi Akin, Al-Monitor.

The Turkish government announced Wednesday that it will observe three days of mourning in solidarity with Palestinians amid mounting outrage in Turkey at Israeli and Western franchises over a Gaza hospital bombing, the deadliest so far in the 12-day-old conflict between Hamas and Israel. 

Israelis and Palestinians have traded blame over the bombing of Gaza’s al-Ahli hospital late Tuesday that killed hundreds of civilians in the building.

As images of the victims inundated social media, thousands took to the streets across Turkey in the early hours of Wednesday including in the country’s largest city Istanbul, the capital Ankara and Diyarbakir, the largest city in the Kurdish-majority southeast of the country.

Crowds gathered near the Israeli Embassy in Ankara and its consulate in Istanbul as well as around the Incirlik airbase in the southern province of Adana, which hosts US troops. Waving Palestinian flags, they chanted, “Damn Israel and its collaborator US.”

In Istanbul, a large crowd gathered outside the Israeli Consulate, hurling fireworks and rocks at the high-rise in which the mission is located. Police used water cannons to disperse the crowd. 

A video circulating on social media showed demonstrators breaking windows of a McDonald’s branch in Istanbul. McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are two brands that often come under fire in protests against Israel. 

The outrage prompted Fahrettin Altun, the Turkish presidency’s communications director, to call on the demonstrators for restraint. “We must preserve our common sense and maintain our calm. It is essential that our reactions remain within democratic limits,” Altun wrote on X. 

The call came as Israeli authorities raised the country’s travel warning for Turkey to its highest level, calling on its nationals to leave the country as soon as possible. Israel is planning to send planes to evacuate its nationals who wish to leave, Turkey’s Demiroren News Agency reported. 

The call came as Israeli authorities raised the country’s travel warning for Turkey to its highest level, calling on its nationals to leave the country as soon as possible. Israel is planning to send planes to evacuate its nationals who wish to leave, Turkey’s Demiroren News Agency reported. 

The US Embassy in Ankara also announced that it was temporarily closing its consulate in Adana until  further notice, citing expected protests in the upcoming weeks. “Any gathering, even those intended to be peaceful, could escalate and turn violent,” a security alert by the embassy said.

Later Wednesday, the Istanbul governor’s office said police had detained five demonstrators after they attempted to enter the building in which the Israeli Consulate is located. “Security forces were forced to intervene in a bid to prevent irrevocable events,” the statement read.

One demonstrator died of a heart attack during the protest, the statement added.  

Police dispatched additional security forces to the vicinity of the consulate as well as the Israeli Embassy and ambassador’s residence in Ankara in anticipation of more protests.

Spokesperson for Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party Omer Celik called Israel’s assertion that the hospital was struck by a stray rocket fired by the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad a “disinformation campaign.” Celik said Israeli security forces are “systematically massacring and targeting Palestinians.” 

Celik added that the country would decree three days of mourning in solidarity with Palestinians.

Social media users in Turkey, meanwhile, called on Ankara to cut off its diplomatic ties with Israel. Turkey and Israel restored relations just last year after a more than a decade of deep freeze, largely due to differences over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a leading champion of the Palestinian cause, but has dialed down his anti-Israel rhetoric in recent years. The shift came as part of Ankara’s fence-mending push with its former regional rivals — namely Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Egypt — as part of a broader effort to break Turkey’s regional isolation and to weather the economic crisis the country is facing. 

In the immediate aftermath of the hospital blast on Tuesday, Erdogan blamed Israel and labeled it the “latest example of Israel’s attacks devoid of basic human values.”

He ramped up his rhetoric a notch on Wednesday. “I condemn the perpetrators of this attack, which amounts to a crime against humanity and genocide against the people of Gaza,” he said. 

He also lashed out at the United States and other Western capitals. “Our efforts aimed at ensuring peace were disrupted by steps such as the dispatch of aircraft carriers to the region, cutting off aid to the Palestinian people and collective punishment of the Gaza people.”

The Turkish Foreign Ministry also strongly condemned “the barbaric attack,” saying, “A mentality which directly targets civilians, strikes hospitals and schools will inevitably be held accountable under international law and in the conscience of humanity. » 

The hospital bombing also united the nation across the deeply polarized political spectrum. In a joint declaration, all five major political parties represented in the Turkish Parliament condemned the bombing as a “crime against humanity.”

In contrast to the United States and European Union, Turkey does not consider Hamas a terror organization and maintains a direct channel with the group. 

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said Tuesday that his country had initiated discussions with the militant group for the release of hostages including Israeli and third-country civilians that are being held by Hamas in Gaza. 

« Our efforts are ongoing for the release of particularly foreigners, civilians and children,” Fidan told journalists, speaking alongside his Lebanese counterpart, Abdallah Rashid Bou Habib. The remarks came after Fidan’s phone call with Hamas’ political chief Ismail Haniyeh on Monday for the release of hostages. 

Israel has in the past accused Turkey of harboring Hamas operatives, including several of its key leaders. Among them was Haniyeh, who currently lives in Qatar. The US Treasury Department slapped sanctions today on several Turkey-based Hamas operatives over their involvement in the militant group’s investment network.

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