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Erdoğan visits Cairo, Tel Aviv on its toes

ANKARA – Hürriyet Daily News | 9/11/2011 12:00:00 AM |

PM Erdoğan begins a regional trip today, starting from Egypt. Israel feels more isolated after it is forced to pull its diplomats from Cairo

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will begin a four-day trip to North Africa on Monday amid his country’s game of diplomatic hardball with Israel that has made the Turkish leader immensely popular across the Arab world.

The visits to Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, countries all affected by the Arab Spring, between Monday and Thursday are expected to enable Erdoğan to further cast himself as one of the Muslim world’s leading political figures through speeches about Turkey’s foreign policy vision for the region, as well as pointed criticism of Israel. Erdoğan’s trip begins with a visit to Egypt, where a state of high alert was declared Saturday in Cairo after protesters stormed the building housing Israel’s embassy and clashed with police, prompting a mass evacuation of the ambassador and other staff.

The prime minister is planning to harshly criticize Israel when he addresses Arab League foreign ministers and might possibly make similar comments when he delivers a speech in iconic Tahrir Square, ground zero for Egypt’s revolutionaries. Around 500,000 people in Cairo are currently “cursing Israel with their acts,” Erdoğan said on Saturday. Behind such acts lies a spirit and an awakening, he said. “People in the region are marching toward democracy and freedom from autocratic systems.”

[HH]FM: No visit to Gaza

Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu told the Hürriyet Daily News during a press conference in Istanbul on Sunday that Erdoğan would not visit Gaza. Erdoğan will also meet the head of Egypt’s ruling military council, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, Prime Minister Essam Sharaf and representatives of the country’s popular revolt that that ousted former president Hosni Mubarak. A group of Egyptian revolutionaries will also greet the premier at his arrival in Cairo. Erdoğan is further expected to give a speech Monday at Cairo University, where he will outline Turkey’s foreign policy vision for the region.

Erdoğan will also seek closer economic and military ties with the new rulers of Egypt. During his Egyptian visit, the Turkish leader is also expected to meet Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas to discuss Palestine’s bid to be recognized as a state by the U.N. Erdoğan will continue his tour with a trip to Tunisia on Tuesday, before travelling to Libya the next day – becoming the first head of government to visit Libya since rebels fighting to end Col. Moammar Gaddafi’s 42-year-old rule entered Tripoli. Erdoğan is expected to meet Mustafa Abdul Jalil, head of the National Transitional Council.

“Israel has not yet fully understood the change in the region and has condemned itself to complete isolation,” said Davutoğlu on Sunday, referring to the Egyptian protesters’ attack on the Israeli embassy in Cairo on Friday, adding that the demonstrations were not the result of Turkey’s recent actions toward Israel. “[Israel] despises and plays with the people’s honor in this region,” Davutoğlu said, adding that Turkey would continue to highlight Israel’s unlawful acts in all international platforms. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office said late Friday that Israeli policy “was and remains the prevention of deterioration in our ties with Turkey”.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Israel was not interested in a conflict with Turkey but was also not ready “to wave a white flag” before Ankara, daily Jerusalem Post reported late Friday.

Israel will develop and defend gas platforms recently discovered in its waters, Energy Minister Uzi Landau said on Sunday. “Israel can support and secure the rigs that we are going to have in the Mediterranean,” Landau said, Reuters reported Sunday.

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