ANKARA (Associated Press)–Turkey’s prime minister accused Israel today of committing "genocide" against Palestinians – an unusually harsh denunciation from a country with strong ties to the Jewish state.
Turkey–a predominantly Muslim and secular nation–has sharpened its criticism of Israel since the beginning last week of the Israeli siege on Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat’s headquarters in the West Bank town of Ramallah.
Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit’s statement Thursday was his strongest to date.
"Not only Arafat–but all of the Palestinian state is being destroyed step by step. In front of the world’s eyes–a genocide is being committed," he told a meeting of his political party.
Ecevit condemned Prime Minister Ariel Sharon for not negotiating with Arafat. "The Sharon administration has chosen the path of occupation and war instead of peace and dialogue," Ecevit said.
He also warned the United States that radical Islamic groups – including Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaida network – could proliferate unless Washington takes a more active role in the Middle East.
"Bin Laden and al-Qaida will have a field day," Ecevit told members of parliament from his Democratic Left Party.
"Not just the region–but the whole world will suffer."
Both Turkey and Israel are close US allies and have conducted joint military exercises–sometimes angering Arab neighbors. Ankara also maintains good relations with the Palestinians–who enjoy strong public sympathy in Turkey.
Despite Ecevit’s increasing criticism–earlier this week he refused to cancel a $668 million deal for an Israeli firm to modernize 170 Turkish tanks.