Thousands in Istanbul join pro-Palestine march

Thousands have gathered in central Istanbul to protest the United States’ embassy move from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and recognise the city as Israel’s capital, and the massacre of Palestinians that followed.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been among the strongest critics of U.S. President Donald Trump's decision after he announced the embassy move last December.

An Extraordinary Session of the Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC)’s Islamic Summit Conference was swiftly brought together under Erdoğan’s leadership to respond to the announcement, rejecting and condemning “in the strongest terms the unilateral decison by the President of the United States of America recognizing Al-Quds (Jerusalem’s name in Arabic) as the so-called capital of Israel.”

On Monday, as U.S. and Israeli officials gathered at the opening ceremony for the new embassy, Israeli soldiers killed at least 52 protesting Palestinians. Meanwhile, protesters gathered in cities around the world at pro-Palestinian marches and demonstrations.

The embassy move was also a main topic in comments by Erdoğan during his visit to the UK, where on Monday he said the decision ruled the United States out as a mediator in the Middle East and contributed to a world atmosphere “reminiscent of the years leading up to the second world war.”

Hours after his speech in the UK, thousands of Turks marched along İstiklal Avenue in central Istanbul, where they took part in a spirited demonstration of their support of the Palestinian cause attended by figures and groups with links to the Turkish government.

The Humanitarian Relief Foundation (İHH), a government-linked Turkish charity organisation that led the “Mavi Marmara” flotilla of ships attacked by Israeli soldiers while carrying aid to Gaza in 2010, was one of the groups with a strong presence at the march, where they reportedly gathered under the slogan “We came with Mavi Marmara, next we will come with our planes.”

However, the protest also reflected a spirit of unity among Turkey’s conservative religious base on the Palestinian issue, even as Islamist parties prepare to compete with the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.

The Felicity Party (SP), which has joined an opposition alliance along with three major opposition parties ahead of the upcoming Jun. 24 presidential and parliamentary elections, had a strong presence at the protest, joined by the Anatolian Youth Foundation (AGV), the party’s youth wing.

AGV Istanbul head Ali Uğur Bulut addressed the crowd to call on Muslim countries to cut all ties with Israel, bring an economic embargo against the country and close all U.S. bases in Turkey.

“We may disagree on many issues, but our love of Palestine makes us one people. It brings us together,” said Durali Baki, the Istanbul branch president of the pro-government union Memur-Sen.

May 14, 2018. REUTERS/Osman Orsal

Although not a presence at the march, Turkey’s secularist main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) also voiced its condemnation of the U.S. embassy move and ensuing massacre of Palestinians on Monday.

“The United States can not bring peace to the Middle East with such a stance,” said the CHP’s presidential candidate, Muharrem İnce, at a rally in the southern Turkish city of Konya on Monday.

“This was a wrong move … In the last few days 128 states have rejected the United States’ decision. They said no. In this kind of current scenario, it makes new conflicts inevitable. It could lead to new conflicts in the region,” he said.

Later in the day, CHP spokesperson Bülent Tezcan quickly responded to news of the massacre with a statement of condemnation.

“Humanity does not deserve this great dishonour. The United States and Israel have plunged a dagger into the chest of the Middle East,” he said. “These actions bring not peace but an invitation to war.”