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Erdogan slams Israel over violation of Lebanese airspace

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Israel on Monday for violating Lebanon's airspace and using disproportionate force against Palestinians in Gaza, the latest in a series of criticisms Ankara has directed at the Jewish state's policies in the Middle East.

"It is impossible for us to remain silent about what Israel has been doing. We believe that pressure should be exerted on the Israeli administration. According to UN resolutions, Israel has violated rules over 100 times. If they are not to be implemented, why do these rules exist?" Erdogan stated at a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Ankara.

Hariri's visit to Turkey came days after the UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) last week called on Israel to end its daily violations of Lebanese airspace. "Israel ought to halt the flights which constitute a violation of Lebanese sovereignty," UNIFIL spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said Thursday, adding that these violations are "a matter of continued discussion with Israel."

A spokesperson for the Lebanese army said Lebanese anti-aircraft guns opened fire on four Israeli warplanes that were violating its airspace at low altitudes over the southern area of Marjayoun on Monday morning.

Calling Israel's moves threatening for international peace, Erdogan also pledged to voice its warnings against Israel both at international platforms such as the United Nations Security Council and during an upcoming visit of Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak to Turkey, which is expected to take place later this month. Turkey is a temporary member of the Security Council.

Erdogan slams Israel over violation of Lebanese airspaceA UN spokesman in Lebanon said Monday the overflights were a violation of UN Security Council Resolution 1701, which ended the devastating 2006 war between Israel and Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah. For his part, Hariri blamed Israel for accusing the Lebanese government of irresponsibility, claiming to have found explosive materials in southern Lebanon without any basis to make such accusations.

"Today, Israel continues its violation of our airspace and waters," Hariri said. "In my opinion, an attack against Lebanon is itself terrorism. We have to stand united against Israel. The time has come for doing this," he added.

'No excuse for Gaza attack'

The press conference with Hariri was also a venue for Erdogan's strongly-worded warnings to Israel, whose warplanes killed three Islamic jihad gunmen in an air strike on Sunday as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned that the military would respond harshly to rocket and mortar fire from Gaza. The aircraft targeted a group of Palestinian militants in the central Gaza Strip, killing the three with an air-to-ground missile, Palestinian medics said. The Israeli military said the militants were targeted as they were preparing to fire rockets into Israel. "What is your excuse this time?" he asked, underlining that there were no rockets fired from Gaza that would justify Israel's attack on Sunday.

Erdogan accused Israel of using white phosphorus shells in its offensive in Gaza last year. "No one can claim that phosphorus shells are not weapons of mass destruction," he said.

Turkey's ties with Israel have been strained by Erdogan's frequent criticism of the Jewish state's use of force against Palestinians as well as during the 2006 war against Hezbollah forces in Lebanon.

Discussing the possibility of war to make Iran drop its nuclear program, Erdogan said, "The region will not accept a new Iraq syndrome." Turkey has long defended Iran's right to develop nuclear energy for peaceful use.

"Those who are warning Iran over nuclear weapons are not making the same warnings to Israel," Erdogan said. "The five permanent members of the Security Council must be just. Israel has not denied the existence of its nuclear arsenal; on the contrary, it has admitted it."

No backtracking on Davos decision

He, meanwhile, repeated that he will not be attending the World Economic Forum to be held in Davos, Switzerland later this month. Last year's forum was the venue for his harsh public criticism against Israeli President Shimon Peres over the deadly Gaza offensive. Erdogan walked out of the session and promised never to come back to Davos.

"I said it once. This is over; I will not be going there again," he told reporters.


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