Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the president of Turkey, described Western nations as “the main culprit” behind the Israeli army’s “massacre” of Palestinians in Gaza on Saturday.
The Turkish leader has been a leading international supporter of Palestinian rights during his two-decade rule.
He took a more cautious line in the first days after Hamas staged a surprise attack on October 7 during which they seized more than 220 hostages and claimed more than 1,400 lives.
But he has become much more vocal as the reported death toll from Israel’s military response has grown.
The health ministry in Gaza said Israeli strikes had killed 7,703 people — mainly civilians — with more than 3,500 of them children.
Erdogan’s party staged a massive pro-Palestinian rally in Istanbul on Saturday that the Turkish leader said had drawn a crowd of 1.5 million.
He unleashed a scathing attack on Israel and its Western supporters after taking the stage with a microphone in his hand.
“The main culprit behind the massacre unfolding in Gaza is the West,” Erdogan told the Turkish and Palestinian flag-waving crowd.
“If we leave aside some conscientious voices… the massacre in Gaza is entirely the work of the West.”
Erdogan added that Israel was behaving like a “war criminal”.
“Of course, every country has the right to defend itself. But where is the justice in this case?”
He accused Western powers of “shedding tears” over the death of civilians in Ukraine and turning a blind eye to the death of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.
“We are against all these double standards and all these hypocrisies,” he said.
He accused Israel’s allies of creating a “crusade war atmosphere” pitting Christians against Muslims.
“Listen to our call for dialogue,” Erdogan said. “No one loses from a just peace.”
Erdogan declared that “only our flag and the Palestine flag will wave” at the gathering, and he extended an invitation to every Turk.
It was anticipated by his AK party that over a million people would attend.
On Sunday, the centenary of modern Turkey will be celebrated, and some predict that rather than ceremonies honouring Mustafa Kemal Ataturk — the father of the republic — news of the Saturday rally may dominate media headlines.
The AK party, led by Turkey’s longest-serving leader, Erdogan, has weakened support for Ataturk’s Western-oriented principles. Erdogan’s and Ataturk’s images have been displayed side by side in government buildings and educational institutions in recent years.
“The symbolism is clear and no one in Turkey is unaware of it — that the pro-Palestinian rally is likely to overshadow celebrations for the centennial of the secular republic,” said Asli Aydintasbas, visiting fellow at the Washington-based Brookings Institution.
She said that while Erdogan’s comments about Hamas reflected Ankara’s long-held position, he aimed to benefit from anti-Israel sentiment domestically and “consolidate Turkey’s Sunni conservatives”.
The government has said the Israel-Hamas conflict will not restrict celebrations of the 100th anniversary, for which it has organised events across the country. __The News