01/30/2009, 00.00
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Erdogan hailed as hero, after criticizing Shimon Peres

The Turkish prime minister bitterly criticized the Israeli operation in Gaza, and walked away from a televised debate. Ban Ki-moon for emergency aid to the Palestinian population of the Strip. Netanyahu calls for Iran to be "neutralized."

Istanbul (AsiaNews/Agencies) - More than 5,000 people greeted Turkish prime minister Erdogan upon his return to Turkey this morning, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags. Erdogan was returning from Davos, from the World Economic Forum, where he walked away from a televised debate with Israeli president Shimon Peres, about the war in Gaza. The Turkish prime minister left the program after the moderator of the debate gave him only one minute to reply to a long and impassioned statement by Peres in defense of the Israeli offensive.

Erdogan said: "I find it very sad that people applaud what you said. There have been many people killed. And I think that it is very wrong and it is not humanitarian." He then left the set, vowing that he would not return to Davos.

In Istanbul, the crowds acclaimed Erdogan with banners thanking him and hailing him as a new "world leader." The prime minister tried to downplay his stance, directing his protest at the moderator who did not give him enough time. But his words against the Israeli policy in Gaza remain.

Turkey is one of the few Islamic majority countries that still have diplomatic relations with Tel Aviv. Erdogan himself performs a role of mediator in initial talks between Syria and Israel, and an attempt to push Hamas to become only a political movement, not a guerrilla group, and to free Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier captured in 2006.

In Istanbul, Erdogan told the crowd that "our hard words are not directed towards the people of Israel, not directed at the Jews, but they are totally directed towards the government of Israel."

The debate with Erdogan and Peres was also attended by UN secretary Ban Ki-moon, who issued an emergency appeal for the raising of 613 million U.S. dollars to help the Palestinian population after the attack on Gaza. The fundraising is intended to resolve the emergency situation of water, food, and medical supplies for the next 6-9 months.

Benjamin Netanyahu, leader of Israel's Likud party, was also present at the forum, and suggested "neutralizing" Iran in order to reduce the risk of attacks on the part of Hamas in Gaza, and of Hezbollah from southern Lebanon.

According to analysts, Erdogan's stance, rather than being aimed at breaking off relations with Israel, is intended to oppose the firebrand Netanyahu and his extremist positions.

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