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Netanyahu brands Erdogan an 'anti-Semitic dictator' as two leaders trade insults

Israeli prime minister made comments after Turkish president described him as 'an oppressor, cruel and at the head of state terror'
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AFP)

Tensions between Turkey and Israel, two US allies with an on-off fractious relationship, ratcheted up on Sunday as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an "oppressor".

Netanyahu hit back in a speech later the same day, calling Erdogan an "anti-Semitic dictator" who is "obsessed with Israel".

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been tense this year over multiple issues including a controversial law passed by the Israeli parliament in July which defined the country as the nation state of the Jewish people.

The most recent exchanges were the latest in a war of words that has been rumbling on between the two leaders over the weekend.

On Saturday, the Turkish president told a group of youths: "Do not kick the enemy you have brought down to the ground. You are not a Jew in Israel," in an apparent reference to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and siege of Gaza.

The comments did not go unnoticed in Israel, however, with Netanyau later tweeting a criticism of the Turkish occupation of northern Cyprus.

"Erdogan – the occupier of northern Cyprus, whose army massacres women and children in Kurdish villages, inside and outside Turkey – should not preach to Israel," the Israeli premier tweeted.

Natanyahu's rebuke was then swiftly met by another from Ibrahim Kalin, one of Erdogan's top aides.

"Bashing Erdogan or using Kurds as a political chip will not save [Netanyahu] from his domestic troubles," Kalin wrote.

The Israeli prime minister has recently seen his cabinet rocked by the departure of defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, with many analysts predicting Israel will soon be pushed towards elections as a result.

Netanyahu is also facing multiple allegations of corruption in several cases levelled against him.

On Sunday, Erdogan entered the fray again.

"You are an oppressor, cruel and at the head of state terror," Erdogan told the Israeli prime minister in a televised speech in Istanbul.

Erdogan lambasted Netanyahu for "occupying Palestine" and committing "sins, crimes against humanity, massacres".

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Diplomatic spats between the two countries are nothing new.

Erdogan has long portrayed himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, and on 14 December he said Palestinians were subjected to "pressures, violence and intimidation policies no less grave than the oppression done to the Jews during the Second World War," referring to the Holocaust.

The Turkish president has previously called Israel "the world's most fascist and racist state".

In May, Ankara ordered the Israeli ambassador out of Turkey in response to Israel's killing of Palestinian protesters in the Gaza Strip.

The row over Gaza even elicited a controversial response from Natanyahu's son, Yair, who shared an image saying "fuck Turkey" on Instagram.