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Turkish FM says Israel rejected request to airdrop aid to Gaza, vows to take measures

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Turkey on Monday said Israel had blocked its attempt to airdrop aid to Gaza and vowed to take a series of new measures against the country, Agence France-Presse reported.

The Turkish air force wanted to drop part of a humanitarian aid shipment by means of its cargo planes.

“Today we learned that our request … was rejected by Israel. There is no excuse for Israel blocking our attempt to airlift aid to starving Gazans,” Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said.

“We decided to take a series of new measures against Israel,” he said, adding that they would be announced by the relevant institutions.

Fidan said Ankara’s reprisals approved by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan would be implemented “step by step” and “without any delay.”

“These measures will be in place until Israel declares a ceasefire and allows humanitarian aid to reach Gaza without interruption,” the minister said.

Anti-Israel sentiment has been running high in Turkey since Israel began pounding Gaza in retaliation for an unprecedented attack by the militant group Hamas in the south of Israel on October 7, which claimed around 1,200 lives and resulted in the taking of some 250 hostages. The death toll in Gaza has exceeded 33,000, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

Despite his anti-Israel rhetoric, Erdoğan has faced accusations of hypocrisy due to the ongoing trade between Israel and Turkey that has shown no signs of winding down at the height of Israel’s war on Gaza and to some extent is conducted by people close to Erdoğan and his family.

Despite the ongoing conflict and Erdoğan’s condemnation, Israel remains an important trading partner for Turkey, ranking 13th on Turkey’s export list in 2023. Trade between the two countries totaled $5.42 billion last year, accounting for 2.1 percent of Turkey’s total exports, a decrease from $7 billion in 2022.

Data from the Turkish Ministry of Transportation shows that between October 7 and December 31, 2023, an average of eight ships per day made a total of 701 trips from Turkish ports to Israel. Of these, 480 sailed directly, while 221 used Turkey as a transit country. Notably, Turkish exports to Israel rose to $430.6 million in December, an increase of 34.8 percent compared to November, indicating a continued and even growing economic relationship despite the political rhetoric.

The Turkish Statistical Institute’s Foreign Trade Statistics Database showed items exported to Israel included precious metals, chemicals, insecticides, nuclear reactor parts, gunpowder, explosives, aircraft parts and weapons and ammunition.

Turkish opposition leaders criticize the apparent contradiction of the Erdoğan government condemning Israel’s military actions while maintaining robust trade relations with the country.

Meanwhile, Israeli media reported earlier this month, quoting a Turkish deputy ambassador to Israel whose name was not revealed, as having told Jacob Blitstein, director general of the Israeli Foreign Ministry, that “Erdogan’s harsh rhetoric against Israel stems from Erdogan’s political considerations in the local elections in Turkey.”

Turkey held local elections on March 31 that ended with the worst defeat suffered by Erdoğan’s AKP since its establishment in 2001. The AKP not only lost the vote in some of its previous strongholds but also suffered a decline in its numbers across the country, which led to it coming in second in the election.

The loss of public support for the AKP has been partly blamed on its ongoing trade with Israel.

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