Erdogan Slams US Decision to Deploy Warships Over Gaza

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(Bloomberg) -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan criticized the US for sending a group of warships to the eastern Mediterranean to show support for Israel after this weekend’s deadly attack by Palestinian militant group Hamas.

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“What is the US aircraft carrier doing in Israel?” Erdogan said at a joint press conference with visiting Austrian Chancellor Karl Nehammer in Ankara late Tuesday. In an escalation of rhetoric against the US, he warned that their involvement in the Gaza Strip would risk “massacres.”

The US said on Sunday it was dispatching the USS Gerald R. Ford Carrier Strike Group, which includes an aircraft carrier, guided missile cruiser and missile destroyers, as a deterrent. The US has offered Israel equipment and munitions as it hits back against Hamas but there has been no suggestion so far that American warships would enter the fray.

US Sends Warships, Aid in Show of Force as Israel Strikes Back

Erdogan’s criticism comes as Turkey, which supports the Palestinian quest for an independent state, works to avert a broader escalation. The Turkish leader warned that a prolonged conflict risks engulfing the Middle East and criticized Israel’s decision to cut off water and electricity to the isolated enclave.

The combined death toll on the fifth day of the war has already exceeded 2,000, including more than 1,200 Israelis.

Israel has in the past accused Turkey of supporting Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip. The US considers the Islamist militant group a terrorist organization. Turkey does not. The US and Turkey are NATO allies.

“What will it do with all its boats and planes on the aircraft carrier that comes here?” Erdogan said.

Erdogan discussed in a phone call with Russia’s Vladimir Putin late Tuesday ways to stop the conflict from spreading, the Turkish presidency said.

His comments come after the US shot down an armed Turkish drone that flew too close to American ground forces during air raids last week against US-backed Kurdish militants in Syria.

Erdogan’s comments threaten to set back a nascent thaw in Turkey’s ties with Israel. Relations nosedived in 2010 over a deadly Israeli raid on a civilian Turkish flotilla that was carrying pro-Palestinian activists to Gaza.

(Updates with Erdogan-Putin phone call in eighth paragraph, edits.)

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