Erdogan tells Arab League: Palestinian UN bid 'an obligation'

AFP , Tuesday 13 Sep 2011

Turkish PM Erdogan rallies support in Cairo for Palestine UN membership bid, takes a tough stand against Israel

Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, addressed Arab foreign ministers today as he kicked off a three-nation Arab Spring tour.

The Turkish premier said governments should not use force to repress the legitimate demands of their people.

He reiterated that strained ties with Israel will not improve unless the Jewish state apologises for the death of nine Turks killed in a raid on an aid flotilla that tried to break the Israeli-imposed blockade of Gaza.

"Recognising the Palestinian state is not an option, it is an obligation," Erdogan said at the Arab League headquarters in Cairo, as Palestinians seek support for a UN membership bid they plan to launch next week.

"Before the end of this year we will see Palestine at the United Nations in a very different situation," he said. "It is time for the flag of Palestine to be hoisted at the United Nations."

Palestinians are preparing to submit a formal request to become the 194th member of the United Nations when the General Assembly begins its meetings on 20 September, despite US and Israeli opposition.

The Palestinian bid has triggered controversy.

US President Barack Obama on Monday said it was a "distraction" that would not result in viable statehood, while Russia said it will back the Palestinians and the European Union remains divided.

Late on Monday, a small group of Arab foreign ministers led by Qatar's top diplomat agreed to marshal support for the Palestinian bid.

Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al-Thani said, as he chaired Tuesday's Arab League meeting, that the Palestinian cause "is the main challenge" facing the 22-member bloc.

"We thank all the countries that have recognised the Palestinian state and we look forward to (further) support for the Palestinian bid for UN membership," Sheikh Hamad said.

Some 127 countries recognise Palestine as an independent state and Palestinians hope to garner more than 160 votes at the General Assembly for their cause.

Arab League chief Nabil Al-Arabi on Monday said "consultations and communications will continue in order to reach the goal" of Palestinian UN membership.

Erdogan, a staunch supporter of the Palestinian cause who has become a strident critic of long-time ally Israel, said Turkey and the Arabs must "work hand in hand with our Palestinian brothers."

"The Palestinian cause is the cause of human dignity," said Erdogan.

Turning to Israel, Erdogan said: "It is out of the question for Turkey to normalise ties with Israel" unless it apologises for last year's deadly flotilla raid, pays compensation and lifts a blockade imposed on Gaza.

"Israel sees itself above the law," he said, and accused the Jewish state of "turning a deaf ear" to Turkey's demands.

Earlier this month Ankara expelled the Israeli ambassador and suspended all military ties and defence trade over Israel's refusal to apologise for the flotilla raid.

Much admired on the Arab street, Erdogan is on an Arab Spring tour of Egypt, Tunisia and Libya where pro-democracy uprisings unseated veteran autocratic leaders.

About 3,000 people greeted him at Cairo airport when he arrived late Monday with his wife, children, six cabinet ministers and a huge business delegation to bolster ties with the most populous Arab nation.

Erdogan's visit to Cairo is his first since the ouster of veteran president Hosni Mubarak in February and he was to meet some of the young activists who spearheaded the popular uprising as well as the new authorities.

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