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Israel is reassessing diplomatic relations with Turkey due to leader's 'increasingly harsh' remarks

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Israel said Saturday that it was recalling its diplomats from Turkey over “increasingly harsh statements” coming from the government in Ankara. The announcement came after Turkey’s president told a massive protest crowd in Istanbul that his government was preparing to declare Israel a “war criminal” due to its actions in the Gaza Strip.

Israel previously removed its diplomats out of Turkey for security reasons. But Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, that they were being ordered to pull out now for a reassessment of the ties between Turkey and Israel.

Cohen's statement suggested a move that could sever the newly restored diplomatic ties between the two countries. There was no immediate response from the Turkish Foreign Ministry.

Earlier Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said during the pro-Palestinian rally that attracted hundreds of thousands of participants that his country planned to formally accuse Israel of committing war crimes in the Gaza Strip.

“Israel, we will proclaim you as a war criminal to the world,” Erdogan said, without elaborating on the mechanism he intended to employ or what the action would mean. “We are making our preparations, and we will declare Israel to the world as a war criminal.”

His office would not comment on his statement.

The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has said an investigation opened in 2021 into alleged crimes in the Palestinian territories could analyze war crimes allegations from the current Israel-Hamas war.

In his remarks at the Istanbul protest, Erdogan also held Western countries responsible for the more than 7,700 people the Hamas-led Health Ministry in Gaza said have been killed in the last three weeks.

He accused the West of failing to stop Israel’s intense bombing since militants from Hamas, the group that rules the Palestinian territory, smashed through the border and killed and kidnapped people in southern Israel on Oct. 7.

Erdogan’s initial reaction to the Israel-Hamas war was fairly muted. He urged both sides to end the hostilities. Turkey said it was engaged in talks to try and secure the more than 220 hostages held by Hamas. It was not clear if those efforts were yielding any progress.

But the Turkish leader has stepped up his criticism of Israel in recent days, describing Israel’s actions in Gaza as verging on “genocide” and asserting that the Hamas militant group, considered a terrorist organization by Israel, the United States and European Union, is a group fighting for the liberation of its lands and people.

Turkey has hosted several Hamas officials in the past. Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Qatar earlier in the week.

Turkey and Israel appointed ambassadors to their respective countries last year, opening a new chapter in diplomatic relations following years of tensions. In 2018, Turkey withdrew its ambassador from Israel and kicked out Israel’s ambassador to protest the killing of dozens of Palestinians by Israeli gunfire in protests along the Gaza frontier.

Erdogan, whose ruling party has roots in Turkey’s Islamic movement, has been an outspoken critic of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians since coming into office in 2003.