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Turkey expels Israel ambassador amid international outrage over Gaza killings

Washington Post

Turkey's government on Tuesday ordered the Israeli ambassador to leave the country, retaliating for Israel's killing of dozens of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip and underscoring the growing international fallout from the bloodshed.

The ambassador, Eitan Naeh, was told by Turkey's foreign minister that it would be "appropriate" if he returned to Israel "for a while," according to Turkey's semiofficial Anadolu news agency, citing unnamed sources.

It gave no other immediate details on the expulsion, which was confirmed by a Foreign Ministry official.

The Turkish decision marked one of the strongest diplomatic responses after Monday's deadly confrontations along the border fence separating Israel and Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade for more than a decade. At least 60 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured, Gaza officials said.

The diplomatic pressures on Israel also grew on other fronts as officials around the world denounced the Gaza killings and called for inquiries. In Paris, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian described the situation in the Middle East as increasingly "explosive."

Kuwait's ambassador to the United Nations, Mansour al-Otaibi, said he planned Wednesday to propose a U.N. Security Council resolution on "protection of the Palestinian civilians." He said the plan does not include peacekeeping forces, but he gave few other details. Any possible Security Council action against Israel would likely face a veto by the United States.

A draft statement circulated late Monday would have expressed the Security Council's "outrage and sorrow at the killing of Palestinian civilians exercising their right to peaceful protest" and would have called for a "transparent" investigation. But the United States blocked it.

Turkey maintains diplomatic ties with Israel, but relations have been severely strained in recent years over issues including the treatment of Palestinians.

In 2010, Israeli commandos stormed a Turkish-operated passenger vessel, the Mavi Marmara, that was on a course to breach Israel's naval blockade of Gaza. The raid killed nine activists.

On Monday, thousands of Turks attended a protest in Istanbul. Meanwhile, Turkish officials announced that Turkey's ambassadors to Israel and the United States were being recalled for consultations in protest over the Gaza killings.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, speaking during a trip to Britain, called the Gaza killings "a genocide."

"They are not committing this genocide for the first time," he said, adding that the killings "have shown the ugly face of Israel."

A Turkish government minister and spokesman, Bekir Bozdag, also accused Israel's most powerful ally, the United States, of helping fuel Palestinian outrage by moving the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. Part of the city is seen by Palestinians as the capital of a possible future state.

"The blood of innocent Palestinians is on the hands of the United States," Bozdag told parliament, according to the Associated Press. "The United States is part of the problem, not the solution."

Reacting on Twitter, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: "Erdogan is among Hamas's biggest supporters and there is no doubt that he well understands terrorism and slaughter. I suggest he not preach morality to us."

And Israel's education minister, Naftali Bennett, also writing on Twitter, called on Israelis to cancel their trips to Turkey, a popular holiday spot for Israelis.

"Israel will no longer hold back from defending its honor and will safeguard its borders and citizens," he wrote.

Even as Turkey's tensions with Israel escalate, the response from some Arab governments toward Israel - including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain - has become more muted in recent years. Arab states of the Persian Gulf have seen their interests converge more closely with Israel over their shared worries about Iran's reach in the region.

The Washington Post's Ruth Eglash in Jerusalem contributed to this report.

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