Israel trade freeze aimed at forcing Gaza truce: Erdogan

The trade freeze is the latest indication of deteriorating relations between the two countries (Adem ALTAN)
The trade freeze is the latest indication of deteriorating relations between the two countries (Adem ALTAN)

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday said Turkey's move to halt trade with Israel was designed to force the country to a ceasefire in Gaza.

The decision, announced on Thursday, is the latest indication of deteriorating relations between the two countries.

"We have taken some measures to force Israel to agree to a ceasefire and increase the amount of humanitarian aid to enter" Gaza, Erdogan told a group of businessmen in Istanbul.

"We will oversee the consequences of this step we have taken in coordination and consultation with our business world."

Already in April Turkey, one of the few Muslim-majority nations to recognise Israel, announced it was restricting exports to Israel, covering 54 products from iron and steel to jet fuel.

"We do not run after hostility or conflict in our region," Erdogan said Friday. "We do not want to see conflict, blood or tears in our geography.

"We know now that we did the right thing."

The Gaza Strip is suffering a humanitarian crisis caused by Israel's war against Hamas that has been raging since October 7, with the United Nations and aid agencies warning of impending famine.

The war started with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,170 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally of Israeli official figures.

Israel estimates that 129 captives seized by militants during their attack remain in Gaza. The military says 34 of them are dead.

Israel's retaliatory offensive against Hamas has killed more than 34,600 people in Gaza, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run territory's health ministry.

- 'We closed that door'-

An outspoken advocate of the Palestinian cause, Erdogan has become one of the most strident critics in the Muslim world of Israel's offensive in Gaza.

He has accused the government of "state terrorism", branding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the "butcher of Gaza".

But Turkey's trade action against Israel came after criticism inside the country against Erdogan's government for having failed to act sooner.

His party suffered a historic defeat in the March 31 local elections, losing control of many cities, especially to the Islam-based Yeniden Refah (New Welfare) Party, which had called for harsher steps against Israel.

Turkish-Israeli trade volume amounted to $9.5 billion, Erdogan told journalists after Friday prayers in Istanbul. "We closed that door."

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz on Thursday accused Erdogan of breaking agreements between the two countries after Ankara announced the trade freeze.

But Erdogan said: "We have one goal here, and that's to force the Netanyahu government, which went out of control with the unconditional military and diplomatic support of the West, to a ceasefire."

"If a ceasefire is declared and an adequate amount of humanitarian aid is allowed to enter Gaza, the goal will be achieved."