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Erdogan calls Netanyahu a 'terrorist' in spat over Gaza deaths

UN chief Guterres has called for an investigation into the use of live ammunition against Palestinians at a protest on Friday
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday lashed out at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in an escalating war of words between the two over the killing of 16 Palestinians in Gaza.

Erdogan called Netanyahu a "terrorist" after the Israeli Prime Minister said he would not be "lectured to on morality" from a country that "has been bombing civilians indiscriminately." 

"Hey Netanyahu! You are an occupier. And it is as an occupier that are you are on those lands. At the same time, you are a terrorist," Erdogan said in a televised speech in Adana, southern Turkey.

"What you do to the oppressed Palestinians will be part of history and we will never forget it," he said, adding: "The Israeli people are uncomfortable with what you're doing.

The spat began on Saturday when Erdogan condemned Israel over its "inhumane attack" in Gaza after a major demonstration there led to clashes that saw Israeli forces kill 16 Palestinians.

The violence broke out on Friday after tens of thousands of people in the Gaza Strip marched near the Israeli border.  

More than 1,400 people were wounded, 758 of them by live fire, with the remainder hurt by rubber bullets and tear gas inhalation, the Gazan health ministry said.

"I strongly condemn the Israeli government over its inhumane attack," Erdogan said during a speech in Istanbul.

On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hit back on Twitter referring to Erdogan's comments as an April Fool's joke.

"The most moral army in the world will not be lectured to on morality from someone who for years has been bombing civilians indiscriminately," Netanyahu wrote. "Apparently this is how they mark April 1 in Ankara."

Those comments prompted Erdogan's latest response.

Sanders condemns killings

UN chief Antonio Guterres called for an "independent and transparent investigation" into the 16 deaths on Friday and European Union diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini followed suit, calling in a statement for a probe into Israel's use of live ammunition.

"While Israel has the right to protect its borders, the use of force must be proportionate at all times," she said.

US Senator Bernie Sanders issued a statement condemning the deaths and declaring that Palestinians should be free to protest without fear in a series of tweets, The Hill reported on its website.

"The killing of Palestinian demonstrators by Israeli forces in Gaza is tragic. It is the right of all people to protest for a better future without a violent response," the Vermont senator wrote.

"Meanwhile, the situation in Gaza remains a humanitarian disaster. The US must play a more positive role in ending the Gaza blockade and helping Palestinians and Israelis build a future that works for all," he added.

The protesters were demanding that hundreds of thousands of Palestinian refugees who fled or were expelled during the war surrounding Israel's creation in 1948 be allowed to return.

"Have you heard any noteworthy objections to the massacre by Israel that happened yesterday in Gaza from those who criticise the Afrin operation?" Erdogan said on Saturday.

Turkey on 20 January launched a cross-border operation against the Kurdish People's Protection Units (YPG) in its enclave of Afrin and the city was captured on 18 March.

Ankara has come under heavy criticism from opponents and activists over its own operations in northern Syria.

"This is the biggest proof of insincerity of those who fixate on us but say nothing about Israel using heavy weapons to attack people who are protesting on their own lands," Erdogan said, without specifying which governments and organisations he meant.

Erdogan on Friday spoke with US President Donald Trump in a call and the Turkish leader said he told Trump: "Aren't you going to intervene here?"

The Turkish leader, a fervent supporter of the Palestinians, often criticises Israel's policies, but the two sides have increased cooperation since the end of a rift in 2016 caused by Israel's storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead.

The Turkish foreign ministry on Friday accused Israel of using "disproportionate force" against Palestinians during "peaceful protests".

Still, Netanyahu on Saturday praised his troops for "guarding the country's borders" after the shooting deaths.

"Well done to our soldiers," he wrote in a statement. "Israel acts vigorously and with determination to protect its sovereignty and the security of its citizens."

The Israeli army said it opened fire only when necessary, against those taking an active part in violence.

It said there were attempts to damage the fence and break through into Israel, as well as an attempted gun attack against troops.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas declared Saturday a day of national mourning and in a speech said he held Israel fully responsible for the deaths.

Thousands attended funerals for 14 of those killed - two were buried on Friday - with mourners holding Palestinian flags and some chanting "revenge" and firing into the air.

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