Middle East

Turkish President Erdogan criticizes Israel, claims Jerusalem is under 'occupation'

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sparked anger from Israel on Monday with a string of critical remarks -- including his claim that Jerusalem remains under Israeli “occupation.”

"Both in terms of our religion and historical responsibility, Al-Quds and the fight of our Palestinian brothers for rights and justice is of great importance to us. We will keep making efforts for Al-Quds to turn into a city of peace," Erdogan said in Istanbul, Newsweek reported. Erdogan referred to Jerusalem as Al-Quds, which means “the holy one” in Arabic.

He also urged Muslims to support the Palestinian cause and compared Israeli moves against Palestinians to those of South Africa under Apartheid.

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Israeli officials replied to Erdogan’s comments by labeling him a “serial human rights violator.”

“Whoever systematically violates human rights in their own country should not preach morality to the only true democracy in the region,” said Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nashon.

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Erdogan historically has been a sharp critic of Israel. He has previously accused the Israelis of supporting the ouster of Egypt's Islamist President Mohammed Morsi and has complained about Israel’s military actions in the Mediterranean.

Relations between Turkey and Israel have been strained following a 2010 Israeli commando raid on a Turkish boat containing pro-Palestinian activists. Nine Turkish citizens were killed.

The two countries reconciled in part last year and restored diplomatic ties to an ambassadorial level.  

The Associated Press contributed to this report.