Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday urged the international community to impose sanctions on Israel.

Meanwhile, the Iranian Red Crescent Society announced yesterday that it intends to send its own aid flotilla to the Gaza Strip this coming Friday (see adjacent story ). The organization said the flotilla will reach Gaza via the Suez Canal - a move calculated to embarrass Egypt.

"What occurred on the flotilla was a crime against humanity," Erdogan declared at a joint press conference in Istanbul with Syrian President Bashar Assad, referring to Israel's raid on a Gaza-bound ship last Monday. "Palestine and Gaza are one big prison, and this situation cannot continue." He demanded that Israel end its blockade on Gaza immediately and said that Turkey is ready to supply Gaza with anything it needs. "We cannot remain silent, and we will not remain silent any longer, about everything connected to Gaza," Erdogan said.

The Turkish prime minister also attacked Israel for alleging that some of the Turks aboard the Mavi Marmara were terrorists, saying Israel would never have freed them if they were - blithely ignoring the fact that Israel freed all the passengers primarily because Turkey demanded it. Further, Turkey backed its demand with threats of serious harm to the bilateral relationship if Israel failed to comply.

Syria's Assad lashed out at Israel as well, saying he came to Istanbul primarily "to condemn the Israeli crime."

"We are not people who just talk and issue condemnations; we favor action," he said. "And we hereby declare that we will support any decision and any step Turkey wishes to take to break the siege, including support for an international investigation."

The raid, he said, was "a crime that exposed Israel's true face. Israel murdered Turkish citizens, and all of Israel's lies about its soldiers being attacked [by the Turkish passengers] have not convinced the free world, which isn't buying Israel's story."

"For Israel," Assad charged, "the peace process is an infected wound that, when you touch it, causes great pain. Turkey, with its peace initiatives, exposed this wound for Israel, which has always hidden behind accusations against the Arabs and their readiness for peace."

The press conference was held on the sidelines of a meeting of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence-Building Measures in Asia, which Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas also attended as well as an Israeli representative. CICA is an intergovernmental security forum.

Also yesterday, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu demanded that Israel consent to an international probe of the flotilla incident, saying its refusal would be a sign that it has something to hide.