ANKARA: Israel on Friday ordered some of its diplomatic staff in Turkey to leave the country for security reasons, after protesters angered by its assault on Gaza sought to storm Israeli embassy buildings.
Turkish protesters overnight tried to break into the ambassador's residence in Ankara as well as the consulate in Istanbul, with the diplomatic controversy over the Gaza assault risking a new crisis in relations between Turkey and the Jewish state.
“Foreign Minister (Avigdor) Lieberman issued a statement ... following the demonstrations and instructed the Israeli consulate and embassy to reduce their diplomatic staff in Turkey,” an Israeli embassy spokesman told AFP, without stating the numbers concerned.
The spokesman emphasised that the Israeli representation in Turkey would not be completely shut down but would be reduced to minimum staffing. The measure also includes the diplomats' families, he added.
The Israeli foreign ministry also accused Turkey's security officials of failing to prevent the violence, he noted. Hundreds of protesters attacked the Israeli consulate in Istanbul while similar numbers sought to break into the Ankara residence of the ambassador after the launch of the ground assault in Gaza, according to AFP correspondents.
Riot police fired tear gas and water cannon to halt the protests in Istanbul in the early hours of the morning but in Ankara they stood on the sidelines.
The crowds in Istanbul, waving Palestinian flags, hurled stones and smashed the windows of the consulate in the upscale Levent district to denounce the Israeli military operations that have left at least 260 Palestinians dead.
They shouted slogans like “Murderer Israel, Get Out of Palestine!” and “Strike Hamas, Strike!” while one protester wrote on the consulate wall: “Die, Murderer Jew”.
Some of the protesters breached the police barricade and climbed the walls to break into the consulate, prompting police to fire tear gas and water cannon.
In Ankara, around 200 people protested in front of the Israeli ambassador's residence under the watch of riot police.
'Israel threatens peace'
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause, has vehemently criticised Israeli actions in Gaza, accusing the Jewish state of carrying out a “genocide” of Palestinians.
“Israel is a state which knows very well how to kill children,” Erdogan said Friday, repeating his famous comments before walking out in 2009 of the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Israel is a country that threatens peace in the world ... Israel has never taken the side of peace,” he said. Erdogan also ruled out any improvement in troubled ties with the Jewish state as long as he remained in power.
“As long as I am in power, I never think anything positive with Israel,” he said.
Turkey downgraded its diplomatic ties with the Jewish state after the deadly 2010 maritime raid by Israeli commandos of a Gaza-bound Turkish ship.
Ten pro-Palestinian activists were killed as a result of the attack.
Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador, demanded a formal apology, compensation for the victims, and an end to the Gaza blockade.
After a US-brokered apology issued by Israel, both sides were engaged in contacts to mend fences and were close to a compensation agreement. But the Israeli military operation in Gaza Strip has made any normalisation out of the question for the moment.
Erdogan, who portrays himself as the global Muslim leader who speaks up for Palestinian rights, also slammed Egypt's President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as an illegitimate “tyrant”, saying that Cairo could not be relied upon to negotiate a ceasefire with Israel.
Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu spoke on the phone with Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal Thursday night and Turkey's leaders were due to meet Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas on Friday.