JERUSALEM (JTA) — President Recip Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey accused Israel of attempting to take the Al-Aqsa mosque from Muslims using security as the excuse.
Erdogan made the accusation during a meeting of his AKP party.
“Everyone who knows Israel is aware that restrictions on Al-Aqsa mosque are not due to safety concerns,” he said during a speech in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, according to reports. “When Israeli soldiers carelessly pollute the grounds of Al-Aqsa with their combat boots by using simple issues as a pretext and then easily spill blood there, the reason is we have not done enough to stake our claim over Jerusalem.
“From here I make a call to all Muslims: Anyone who has the opportunity should visit Jerusalem, Al-Aqsa mosque. Come, let’s all protect Jerusalem.”
Erdogan said he had heard that Israel had removed the metal detectors from the entrances to the Temple Mount for Muslim worshippers and hoped that “the rest will follow.”
“We expect Israel to take steps for the peace of the region,” he added.
Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs in a statement issued Tuesday called the remarks “absurd, unfounded and distorted.”
“He would be better off dealing with the difficult problems facing his own country,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Emmanuel Nahshon said.
“The days of the Ottoman Empire have passed. Jerusalem was, is, and will always be the capital of the Jewish people. In stark contrast to the past, the government in Jerusalem is committed to security, liberty, freedom of worship and respect for the rights of all minorities. Those who live in glass palaces should be wary of casting stones.”
The Prime Minister’s Office in Israel also responded, saying in a brief statement: “It would be interesting to see what Erdogan would say to the residents of northern Cyprus or to the Kurds. Erdogan is the last one who can preach to Israel.”
Erdogan also decried two anti-Israel attacks in recent days on an Istanbul synagogue over the metal detectors, calling for a halt to such demonstrations.
“We have no issues with the houses of worship of Christians or Jews,” he said. “We have taken the necessary measures against the attacks planned on synagogues and temples in our country.”
Over the weekend, Erdogan called on the international community to intervene to get the metal detectors removed from the site.
The new security measures had been put into place after three Arab-Israelis shot and killed two Israeli police officers at the holy site on July 14. Once the metal detectors were put in place, Muslims refused to enter the Temple Mount, instead praying outside its gates, leading to clashes and the deaths of at least five Palestinians in recent days.
Despite the removal Tuesday morning of the metal detectors, Muslim worshippers have continued to stay away.