Turkish PM stands by criticism of Israeli offensive
(adds comments after meeting with Larijani)
By Selcuk Gokoluk
ANKARA, Jan 13 (Reuters) - Turkey's prime minister defended his outspoken criticism of Israel's Gaza offensive on Tuesday and said it did not mean he was anti-Semitic.
Turkey, a predominantly Muslim but secular country with good ties with both Israel and Arab countries, has been trying to help broker a ceasefire between Israel and the Islamist Hamas group which rules the Gaza Strip.
Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan has described Israel's 18-day-old military offensive against Gaza as "a crime against humanity" and defended those remarks on Tuesday in a speech to his ruling AK Party in parliament, broadcast live on television.
"There are people who are disturbed by me speaking of my discomfort over the killing of civilians, (including) children ... If we do not state what is just and lawful, then we will lose our self-respect," he said.
"I am (also) a leader who has said that anti-Semitism is a crime against humanity," he said.
Erdogan also met Iranian Parliamentary Speaker Ali Larijani, who is on an official visit to Turkey, the state-run news agency Anatolian reported, and reiterated his call for a ceasefire in Gaza and an Israeli troop withdrawal. Turkish public opinion is increasingly hostile to Israel's Gaza offensive and hundreds of thousands of Turks have protested against the 18-day-old campaign launched with the declared aim of ending Hamas's cross-border rocket attacks.
Israeli forces have killed more than 900 Palestinians and wounded thousands, many of them civilians. Thirteen Israelis -- 10 soldiers, and three civilians hit by mortar bombs and rockets from the Gaza Strip -- have been killed since Dec. 27.
Human Rights Watch has accused Israel of using white-phosphorus munitions during its offensive. The Israeli army has said it will not give details of its munitions.
"There are people who say that the prime minister's statements are too tough (on Israel), but my words are not tougher than phosphorus bombs," Erdogan said.
Erdogan's criticism of Israel is unlikely to hurt strategic ties. Sales of Israeli military equipment to Turkey are estimated at $100 million a year and they share security intelligence.
Erdogan said some media, which he did not name, were spreading false information about the Gaza offensive.
"Excuses are found for mass killings of children at schools, hospitals and mosques, especially by Jewish-backed media," he said. "News stories saying that terrorists hide among children or (describing bombings) as technical errors or accidents are aimed at making fun of the world (public opinion)." (Editing by Tim Pearce)
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