Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Sunday accused Israel of committing greater crimes against Palestinians during its war in the Gaza Strip than those for which Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir had been indicted.
Erdogan said he would rather confront Bashir, indicted for orchestrating crimes against humanity in Darfur, than discuss state killings of civilians with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Turkish prime minister also said that he did not believe that Bashir was guilty of the crimes for which he was indicted.
"I cannot discuss this with Netanyahu but I can easily discuss such issues with Omar al-Bashir. I can say to his face: What you are doing is wrong," Erdogan said.
Erdogan said Bashir is free to join an Istanbul summit of the Organization of the Islamic Conference this week. The 57-nation group holds its main meetings Monday.
The Turkish prime minister said Ankara respects human rights and would not hesitate to challenge Bashir if it believed he had committed atrocities. But Erdogan said he does not believe that Sudanese paramilitary forces committed acts of genocide against African residents of Darfur.
"It is not possible for those who belong to the Muslim faith to carry out genocide," Erdogan told ruling party members.
Turkey does not recognize the International Criminal Court, the Netherlands-based body that in March issued an arrest warrant for al-Bashir. The court accused Sudan's leaders of orchestrating a campaign of murder, torture, rape and forced expulsions in Darfur.
"If there were such a thing in Darfur, we would be chasing this to the end," Erdogan said.
Meanwhile, Sudanese officials confirmed on Sunday that Bashir would not attend the summit in Istanbul. Bashir's initial plan to attend had propelled a series of objections by the European Union.
Sudan's state news agency Suna reported that Bashir had postponed his trip to return to Khartoum to discuss a deadlock over election laws with his coalition partners, the former southern rebel Sudan People's Liberation Movement.
Syria to Turkey: Keep Israel ties strong to broker peace
Syrian President Bashar Assad earlier Sunday urged Turkey to maintain good relations with Israel, in order to mediate Damascus-Jerusalem peace negotiations.
Assad made the comments in an interview with a Turkish newspaper, a day before the Organization of the Islamic Conference was to meet in Istanbul.
Netanyahu last month said that he did not want Ankara serving as mediator in any future diplomatic negotiations with Syria, in view of the crisis in relations between Israel and Turkey.
The recent tensions began when Turkey decided to ban Israel from an international air force drill on its territory, to protest the war in the Gaza Strip earlier this year.
Not long after, Israel's ambassador in Ankara, Gabi Levy, officially protested to Turkey's Foreign Ministry about a drama aired on public television in which actors portrayed Israeli soldiers executing Palestinians.
The tensions became a major issue during a meeting between Netanyahu and his visiting Spanish counterpart, Jose Luis Zapatero. During the meeting, Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos told Netanyahu that the Turks "will fall in line" if they serve as mediator between Israel and Syria.
Netanyahu said then that he objects to Turkey resuming its role as mediator and does not see how the country can become "an honest broker" between the two sides.
During Ehud Olmert's tenure as prime minister, Turkey mediated five rounds of talks between Israeli and Syrian officials. Toward the end of Olmert's term the two sides were on the verge of resuming direct negotiations.
At the last meeting between Olmert and Erdogan, the Turkish leader called Syrian President Bashar Assad and relayed messages to and from Olmert. But after Operation Cast Lead earlier this year and the freeze in negotiations with Syria, Erdogan said Olmert had stabbed him in the back.