ANKARA, TURKEY - Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Tuesday rejected Israel's assertion that its strikes on Hamas positions in the Gaza Strip were self-defense, saying the Jewish state is carrying out "ethnic cleansing" against Palestinians.
"No one can say Israel is using its right to self-defense," Erdogan told lawmakers from his party in a speech at the Turkish parliament in Ankara. "Israel is snubbing peace in the region, stomping on international law and carrying out ethnic cleansing against a people."
Erdogan called Israel a "terrorist state" and a "pirate state" that is "waging terrorism in the Middle East." He also accused the United Nations of being absent from conflicts in which Muslims were victims.
"Palestinian lands are being invaded step by step," he said. "Sooner or later, Israel will pay the price for all of the oppressed people it has martyred."
Fighting between Israel and Hamas militants in Gaza continued for a seventh day Tuesday, as U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton headed to the region to try to broker a truce. Israel postponed a decision on launching a ground invasion into Gaza as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he prefers a diplomatic solution, even as he ordered tanks to mass on the border east of Gaza and began calling up 75,000 reservists.
Israel carried out about 100 airstrikes overnight against sites in Gaza, the Israel military said in an e-mailed statement. The targets included the Islamic National Bank in Gaza City, devastating the Hamas-owned lender that the group uses to pay the salaries of its 35,000 employees. The United States, the European Union and Israel consider Hamas to be a terrorist organization.
Ties between Turkey and Israel, once close military allies, have been strained since an Israeli raid left nine Turks dead on a Gaza-bound aid ship in 2010. On Nov. 6, Islamist demonstrators cheered as a Turkish court began the trial in absentia of four Israeli officers accused of ordering the raid.
Erdogan's government has cultivated diplomatic relations with Hamas, and the group's exiled leader, Khaled Mashaal, attended a convention for the Turkish ruling party last month in Ankara. Mashaal received a standing ovation after being introduced by Erdogan, as the audience chanted "damn Israel."
Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu traveled with foreign ministers from the Arab League to visit the Gaza Strip on Tuesday.