President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey lashed out at Israel and defended Hamas during a televised address on Wednesday, taking positions likely to increase tensions between his government and those of other NATO members, including the United States.
Speaking in Parliament to lawmakers from his Justice and Development Party, Mr. Erdogan accused Israel of deliberately attacking civilians in Gaza and killing large numbers of children, women and older people.
“This picture alone is enough to show that the aim here is not self-defense, but savagery to commit the premeditated act of crime against humanity,” he said.
Mr. Erdogan also criticized Western countries for their strong backing of Israel and for branding Hamas, the armed Palestinian group that controls Gaza, as a terrorist organization.
“Hamas is not a terror organization,” he said. “It is an organization of liberation, of mujahedeen, who fight to protect their land and citizens.”
Mr. Erdogan’s comments stand in stark contrast to the stances of Western countries, which have offered strong support for Israel since Hamas led an attack in southern Israel on Oct. 7 that killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, and took more than 220 others, both civilians and soldiers, back to Gaza as captives.
Even before that attack, the United States, the European Union and other countries considered Hamas a terrorist organization.
But Mr. Erdogan’s criticism of Israel’s response — which has included urging more than a million Gazans to flee to the seaside enclave’s southern half, and a heavy bombing campaign that has heavily damaged civilian neighborhoods— reflected sentiments that have become common in parts of the Arab and Muslim worlds. The Israeli bombardment has killed more than 6,500 people, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run Health Ministry.
Israel has vowed to eradicate Hamas and has been massing its troops on the border of Gaza for a possible ground invasion. Its military says that it takes precautions to avoid killing civilians but that Hamas makes this more difficult by mixing its forces in with the civilian population.
Turkey has had turbulent relations with Israel during Mr. Erdogan’s two decades as its dominant politician, often tied to Mr. Erdogan’s anger over the Israeli treatment of Palestinians.
But recently, Mr. Erdogan made steps at rapprochement with the Jewish state.
Last year, Turkey welcomed Israel’s president, Isaac Herzog, in Ankara, the capital, the first such visit by an Israeli head of state since 2008. In a separate visit, the Israeli defense minister met with his Turkish counterpart, and the officials vowed to resume working relations.
And last month, during the United Nations General Assembly in New York, Mr. Erdogan met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel for the first time; the two leaders agreed to visit each other’s countries, Mr. Netanyahu’s office said.
On Wednesday, Mr. Erdogan said all plans to visit Israel had been scrapped.
Mr. Erdogan has alsomaintained ties to Hamas. Members of the group often spend time in Turkey, and many of its leaders were in Turkey for meetings when the Hamas attack on Israel took place on Oct. 7.
Although Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of Israel, Mr. Erdogan on Wednesday said that he had no issue with Israel as a country and that he condemned the killing of civilians in all cases. “We clearly mentioned that we never excuse any acts targeting civilians, including Israeli civilians, regardless of the perpetrator,” he said.
But he accused Israel of attacking Gaza with a ferocity less like that of a state than that of an “organization,” using a Turkish word that is normally used to describe terrorist groups.
Mr. Erdogan’s departure from the position of most of the West on the conflict in Gaza comes against a backdrop of differences with his NATO allies on Russia. While Turkey condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last year, it has refused to go along with Western sanctions aimed at weakening the Russian war machine, and Mr. Erdogan has continued to meet with President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia, even referring to him as “my friend.”
Mr. Erdogan accused the West of a double standard for not condemning Israel’s killing of civilians in Gaza in the same way it has Russia’s killing of civilians in Ukraine.
“It is hypocrisy that those who set the world on fire just yesterday because of losses in the war in Ukraine are blind to this explicit massacre in Gaza,” he said.