Turkish, Israeli leaders clash
Gaza debated at Swiss summit
DAVOS, Switzerland - Turkey's prime minister stalked off the stage at the World Economic Forum red-faced yesterday after reproaching Israel's president over the Gaza offensive by saying, "You kill people."
The packed audience, which included President Obama's close adviser Valerie Jarrett, appeared stunned as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Shimon Peres of Israel raised their voices and traded accusations.
Peres was passionate in his defense of Israel's 23-day offensive against Hamas militants.
As he spoke, Peres often turned toward Erdogan, who in his remarks had criticized the Israeli blockade of Gaza, saying it was an "open air prison, isolated from the rest of the world" and referred to the Palestinian death toll of about 1,300, more than half of those civilians. Thirteen Israelis also died.
"Why did they fire rockets? There was no siege against Gaza," Peres said, his voice rising. "Why did they fight us, what did they want? There was never a day of starvation in Gaza."
The heated debate with Israel and Turkey at the center was significant because of the key role Turkey has played as a moderator between Israel and Syria.
Erdogan appeared to express disappointment when he recounted how he had met with the Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel just days before the offensive and believed they were close to reaching terms for a face-to-face meeting with Syrian leaders.
Obama's new Mideast envoy, George Mitchell, will be in Turkey for talks Sunday.
Erdogan was angry when a panel moderator cut off his remarks in response to an impassioned monologue by Peres defending Israel's offensive against the Hamas rulers of Gaza.
"I find it very sad that people applaud what you said," Erdogan said. "You killed people. And I think that it is very wrong."
The angry exchange followed an hourlong debate at the forum attended by world leaders in Davos. Erdogan tried to rebut Peres as the discussion was ending, asking the moderator,
"Only a minute," Ignatius replied.
"Mr. Peres, you are older than me. Your voice is too loud," Erdogan told Peres.
"You kill people," Erdogan told the 85-year-old Israeli leader. "I remember the children who died on beaches. I remember two former prime ministers who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks."
When Erdogan was asked to stop, he angrily stalked off, leaving fellow panelists UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and Arab League Secretary Amr Moussa.