Erdogan says Turkey stands with Lebanon as tensions rise with Israel

FILE PHOTO: Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis attend a press conference in Ankara

ANKARA (Reuters) -President Tayyip Erdogan said Turkey stood in solidarity with Lebanon amid growing tensions with Israel on Wednesday and called on regional countries to also support Beirut.

Cross-border strains between Israel and Lebanon's Hezbollah have been escalating in recent weeks, stoking fears of an all-out Israel-Hezbollah war. Shelling across Israel's northern border has led to the evacuation of tens of thousands of people from areas on both sides of the frontier.

In a speech to his AK Party lawmakers in parliament, Erdogan said Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu planned to spread the Gaza war to the region.

"It seems that Israel has now turned its eyes on Lebanon after destroying and burning Gaza. We see Western countries giving Israel support behind the scenes," Erdogan said.

"Netanyahu's plans to spread the war to the region will lead to a big catastrophe," he said, adding that the Western support for Israel was "pitiful".

"Turkey stands with the brotherly people and state of Lebanon. I call on other countries in the region to stand in solidarity with Lebanon," he said.

Erdogan's office said late on Wednesday that the president spoke by phone with Lebanese Prime Minister Najib Mikati and repeated the message that Turkey stands by Lebanon "against Israel's aggressive policies".

"President Erdogan said in the call that Israeli aggression must be stopped as soon as possible," the statement said.

Earlier this week, Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan said the Turkish government saw a risk of the conflict spreading while commenting on the tensions between Israel and Hezbollah.

When asked about Hezbollah's threat to Cyprus, the EU member state in closest proximity to Lebanon, Fidan called on Cyprus to "stay away" from the conflict.

Turkey had intelligence reports that showed Cyprus had become a base for "certain countries'" military and reconnaissance flights over Gaza, Fidan said in an interview with private Haberturk television.

Cyprus has said it is "in no way involved" in the conflict. It has lobbied its EU partners to offer Lebanon financial assistance, and recently set up a maritime corridor to dispatch humanitarian aid to Gaza.

(Reporting by Tuvan Gumrukcu, Huseyin Hayatsever and Daren Butler; Editing by Alex Richardson and Alexander Smith)