ISTANBUL (Reuters) – On Friday, Turkey called on Muslim countries to prevent other nations from following the United States and sending their messages to Jerusalem in Israel, as a meeting was opened in Istanbul on Friday.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan called the summit of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) after Israeli forces killed dozens of Palestinian protesters this week in Gaza against the opening of the US Message in Jerusalem demonstrated.
Turkey was one of the loudest critics of the US movement and violence in Gaza and declared three days of mourning. Erdogan has described the actions of the Israeli armed forces as "genocide" and Israel as a "terrorist state".
"We will emphasize the status of the Palestinian question for our community, and we will not allow the status of the historic city to change," said Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in an opening address. "We need to prevent other countries from following the US example."
The events in Gaza have also triggered a diplomatic conflict between Turkey and Israel, with both countries showing their high-ranking diplomats this week.
The misery of the Palestinians resonates with many Turks, especially nationalist and religious voters, who are the basis for Erdogan's support and will stand for re-election next month.
Despite the rhetoric, Israel was the tenth largest market for Turkish exports in 2017, according to the IMF about 3.4 billion dollars.
"We have excellent economic relations with Turkey and these relations are very important for both sides," Israeli Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Israel Radio on Friday, when he was asked if Israel should break relations with Turkey.
U.S. President Donald Trump's decision to postpone the message has overturned decades of US politics and upset the Arab world and Western allies.
Guatemala became the second country to bring its message to the Holy City this week, and Paraguay said it would follow this month.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif told Iranian television after arriving in Istanbul that "Israel's recent crimes in Palestine and the transfer of the US Embassy to Jerusalem require serious coordination between Islamic countries and the international community."
U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said Friday that Israel has systematically deprived Palestinians of their human rights. 1.9 million people are locked up in Gaza "from birth to death in a toxic slum".
Additional reporting by Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Letter from David Dolan; Arrangement by Kevin Liffey