ISTANBUL, July 31, (Agencies): Thousands of supporters of a conservative Turkish party rallied in Istanbul on Sunday to protest measures taken by Israel in Jerusalem and show solidarity with the Palestinians.
Israel had angered Turkey by installing metal detectors and security cameras at the Haram al-Sharif holy site in Jerusalem, known to Jews as the Temple Mount, following a July 14 attack in which gunmen killed two policemen.
The move sparked Muslim protests and deadly unrest, and last week the Israeli government removed the detectors and cameras.
But feelings remain high in Turkey, with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan saying the removal of the detectors was “not enough”.
Sunday’s protest was called by the Saadet (Felicity) Party, which sprung from the same Islamic-rooted political movement as the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Erdogan but is seen as more religiously conservative.
Under the slogan of “Israel understands a show of strength”, the rally was held at the vast Yenikapi Square by the Sea of Marmara which has been the scene of many of Erdogan’s biggest meetings.
However there was no sign of any senior government official at the meeting.
A mass of people, waving Palestinian and Turkish flags, chanted slogans such as “Istanbul and Jerusalem are arm-in-arm”.
“I hope that when they see how many people are here, then Israel will get the message,” said protester Sadik Sen. “We want to show to our Muslim brothers there that we are behind them.”
Improbably, Saadet’s chairman Temel Karamollaoglu had also sent a letter of invitation to football star Cristiano Ronaldo. But there was also no sign of the Real Madrid and Portugal player.
Last year Turkey and Israel ended a rift triggered by Israel’s deadly storming in 2010 of a Gaza-bound ship that left 10 Turkish activists dead. The two sides have since embarked on a close energy cooperation to pipe Israeli gas to Turkey.
But Erdogan, who regards himself a champion of the Palestinian cause, is still often critical of Israeli policy and his comments on the crisis have been among his toughest on Israel since the reconciliation deal.
The rally in Istanbul, called “The Big Jerusalem Meeting” and organised by Turkey’s Saadet Party, drew some five thousand people to the Yenikapi parade ground on the southern edge of Istanbul.
Protesters were brought in by buses and ferries from across the city, waved Turkish and Palestinian flags, and held up posters in front of a giant stage where the chairman of the Saadet party and representatives from NGOs addressed the crowd.
“The Al-Aqsa mosque is our honour,” read a poster.
“You should know that not only Gaza, but Tel Aviv also has their eyes on this parade ground. Netanyahu does as well, and he is scared”, said Saadet Party Chairman Temel Karamollaoglu, referring to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Turkey has opposed the security measures installed at the entry points of the mosque compound, with President Tayyip Erdogan warning Israel that it would suffer most from the dispute.
Erdogan accused Israel of inflicting damage on Jerusalem’s “Islamic character”, in comments that Israel’s foreign ministry called “absurd”.
The dispute over security at the mosque compound – where Israel installed metal detectors at entry points after two police guards were shot dead this month – has touched off the bloodiest clashes between Israelis and Palestinians in years.
On Friday however, the main prayer session at the Al-Aqsa mosque ended relatively calmly after Israel removed the tougher security measures, though it barred entrance to men under age 50 .
Israel captured East Jerusalem, including the Old City and the holy compound, in the 1967 Middle East war. It annexed the area in a move that has never been recognised internationally.
Turkish authorities detained 1,098 people over the last week for suspected links to militant groups or last year’s failed coup attempt, the interior ministry said on Monday.
In a statement, the ministry said 831 of those were detained for suspected ties to the US-based Muslim cleric Fethullah Gulen, whom Ankara blames for orchestrating an attempted coup in July. Gulen denies any involvement.
It said another 213 of those were suspected of links to the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), which has carried out a three-decade insurgency against the government and is considered a terrorist organisation by the United States, Turkey and Europe.
The Turkish government on Sunday strongly defended a plan to let state-approved clerics conduct marriage ceremonies, rejecting fierce criticism that this would undermine the modern republic’s secular foundations.
Turkey is mainly Muslim but officially is a secular state. Under its current laws, even religiously observant couples must be married by a state registrar from the local municipality and not an Islamic cleric.
A Turkish teenager was killed and four other people wounded Sunday when a gunman opened fire on two beach clubs in the upscale Aegean resort of Bodrum in western Turkey, reports said.
The gunman in the early hours of Sunday shot indiscriminately 26 times around two nightclubs on the seafront in the popular resort, the Hurriyet daily said.
Assistant waiter Furkan Say, 18, later died of his wounds in hospital. Two other waiters were wounded as well as one customer. Also hurt was the wife of Turkish TV personality Jess Molho, Zeynep, who was present at the club, it said.