Text size

All the members of Israel's future government should drop the hawkish rhetoric they used while in opposition, otherwise the entire Middle East peace process will suffer, Turkey's President Abdullah Gul warned on Friday.

"We expect to see a change from the rhetoric they used in opposition. If those statements were repeated and became government policy, I have to warn that things would take a turn for the worse and would make for more suffering," Gul told reporters in Brussels.

Speaking after talks with European Union officials on the first visit of a Turkish president to the EU's headquarters, Gul said that "I expect Israel's leaders will act responsibly."

His comments come just days before Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to present his new coalition government to parliament.

That coalition includes both the pro-settlement Habayit Hayehudi ("Jewish Home") and the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party headed by Avigdor Lieberman, who is expected to take the post of foreign minister.

Observers had warned that a coalition based solely on hardline right-wing parties could spell the death of the peace process - especially after Israel's assault on Gaza at the new year.

Those fears were increased by the revelation of a clause in the coalition agreement signed between Netanyahu and Lieberman which states that toppling the Hamas regime in Gaza would be the government's "strategic goal."

However, on Tuesday the Labor party also voted to join the coalition, in a move seen as bringing a more moderate tone to the overall government.

Turkish PM says ready to resume mediation of Israel-Syria peace

Turkey's prime minister reiterated on Friday his readiness to resume mediation of Israeli-Syrian peace negotiations that were disrupted in late December by the Israeli military operation in the Gaza Strip, according to a report by AFP.

"If [Israel and Syria] make such a request to Turkey, we will do our best [to mediate]," Erdogan told the Anatolia news agency in a television interview.

"We are determined to do whatever we can for peace in the Middle East... All issues should be resolved at the negotiating table," he said.

Last month, Erdogan said his government remains committed to mediating a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians despite an angry public exchange earlier this year with Israeli President Shimon Peres.

Erdogan also said UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon phoned him to ask him to continue Turkey's role as a Middle East mediator.

Erdogan accused Peres on January 30 of "knowing very well how to kill" during a panel discussion, that included Ban and the Arab League's Amr Moussa, on the Israeli incursion in Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Erdogan then stormed off the stage.

"If a demand arises from the parties, we again would shoulder this mission (of mediation)," Erdogan told members of his party in parliament.

"The role of mediation does not prevent us from telling the truth. We don't voice our criticisms only to Israel, we tell every side, including Hamas."

Turkey, a predominantly, non-Arab Muslim country that belongs to NATO, has close military and commercial ties with Israel. It has also helped negotiate a Hamas-led ceasefire that ended the rocket attacks that Israel said forced it to launch the incursion into Gaza in December.

Turkey has also led indirect talks between Israel and Syria and sent peacekeeping troops to southern Lebanon.

Last month, an Israeli government official said that Turkey's role in mediating the Israeli-Arab conflict has been compromised by its leader's repeated censure of Israel's offensive in the Gaza Strip.

Erdogan also said Tuesday that criticism of Israel does not amount to anti-Semitism but that his country guarantees the rights and safety of its Jewish population.

The small Jewish community says it is in contact with Turkish police and lawmakers because of safety concerns after the Gaza war.

Erdogan said that the country has no history of anti-Semitism and described it as a crime against humanity.

A statement from the Jewish community says it welcomes Erdogan's condemnation of anti-Semitism. But it expresses concern about what it calls harshly anti-Semitic rhetoric in some television programs.