‘STAND TOGETHER TO SOLVE THE PROBLEM OF PALESTINE’ – Turkish call to Arab states

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Turkey’s prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Arab nations to boost cooperation with Ankara and to brush aside disputes that weakened ties in the past.

‘Arabs are our brothers,’ Erdogan said in a passionate speech at the opening of a two-day conference on Arab-Turkish relations in Kuwait City.

‘We must stand together… By joining forces, we can overcome all our problems. We can resolve the problem of Palestine and the problems of Iraq and Afghanistan,’ said Erdogan.

‘Let’s unite together… We can achieve a lot. We do not need a third party to reform and improve our ties. We in Turkey open all our hearts to you,’ he said.

Erdogan’s Islamist-rooted government has boosted Turkey’s image and popularity tremendously in the Arab world, especially after the premier’s vehement criticism of Israel following its devastating war on the Gaza Strip two years ago, and then its support for the Freedom Flotilla.

Erdogan said Turkey has come under strong criticism because of its new policy of exposing atrocities in Afghanistan, Iraq and the Palestinian territories.

‘Because we speak about Kabul, Baghdad, Gaza and Palestine, we have been strongly criticised. . . . Those critics said that we have no place in the European Union,’ Erdogan said.

He called on Arab nations to forget differences and disputes of the past as ‘these were based on lies.’

Erdogan also blasted those who link Islam to terror, saying this was an insult to Muslims.

The Turkish premier is in Kuwait heading a 500-strong official and business delegation, looking to boost economic and political ties with this oil-rich Gulf state.

On Monday, the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on industrial cooperation.

Economic and political ties between the two Muslim nations have grown in recent years, with the Kuwait Investment Authority (KIA) raising its investments in Turkey to 1.7 billion dollars (1.3 billion euros).

Ankara has been vying to boost its economic and political ties with the energy-rich Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), which groups Kuwait with Bahrain, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In September 2008, Turkey signed a memorandum of understanding with GCC states aimed at forging a strategic partnership in all fields.

And at a meeting held in Kuwait City last October, the two countries established working teams to boost cooperation in the economic, cultural and political sectors.

The meeting heard that trade between the GCC and Turkey shot up from 1.5 billion dollars (1.2 billion euros) in 1999 to 17.5 billion dollars (13.4 billion euros) in 2008.

In 2008, GCC exports to Turkey rose five-fold over 2007’s figure, while the group’s imports from Ankara increased a massive 15 times.

Erdogan also said that Israeli policies greatly undermine peace and stability in the Middle East and constituted a major obstacle to the promotion of tranquility and security across the region.

Their policies have led to serious repercussions, such as its deadly attack on the Gaza-bound Freedom flotilla aid convoy, the Palestinian Information Center reported.

On May 31, 2010, nine Turkish activists aboard the aid flotilla were killed when Israeli military forces opened fire on them in international waters of the Mediterranean Sea.

The Turkish premier also pointed out that the UN Human Rights Council’s fact-finding mission confirmed Tel Aviv’s responsibility for the attack in a September 2010 report.

According to the 56-page UN document, Israeli forces committed a series of crimes during and after the raid, including wilful killing and torture of humanitarian activists.

‘I think that the UN fact-finding committee will also affirm that there is no country above the law,’ Erdogan noted.

The Turkish prime minister added that his country will never give up its demands for an official apology by the Israeli regime as well as financial compensations for the murder of its nationals aboard the Gaza-bound flotilla.

He also called for an end to the ongoing Gaza siege and condemned the blockade of the coastal sliver as a form of ‘collective punishment.’

Meanwhile, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has called for ‘a credible military option against Iran’ that should be taken by the international community and headed by the United States to force Tehran to end its nuclear energy program.

‘You have to ratchet up the pressure and. . . I don’t think that this pressure will be sufficient to have this regime change course without a credible military option that is put before them by the international community led by the United States.’

He said that sanctions are not enough to stop Iran’s nuclear energy program, and they should be backed by some military action.

Netanyahu made the comments a week after Tehran announced Iran’s nuclear sites were being opened to envoys representing ‘geographical and political groups’ in the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA).

Netanyahu told foreign journalists on Wednesday that the American diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed that Iran and its nuclear program were the primary concern for leaders in the Middle East.

‘The WikiLeaks exposed the three main concerns of most, if not all, of the governments in this region.

‘The first concern is Iran; the second concern is Iran; and the third concern is Iran,’ Netanyahu said at an annual meeting with members of the international press in ‘Israel’.

Meanwhile, the WikiLeaks founder sees a ‘real risk’ that he will face extradition or illegal rendition to the US.

Julian Assange vowed to step up the website’s release of secret US cables as his defence team warned he could face the death penalty if he is extradited from Britain.

Lawyers for the Australian released documents outlining their case after a brief court appearance in London during which a judge ruled that Sweden’s bid to extradite him would be heard in full on February 7-8.

Swedish authorities want to question Assange about allegations made by two women that he sexually assaulted them, but the 39-year-old insists the extradition attempt is politically motivated and linked to WikiLeaks’ activities.

‘Our work with WikiLeaks continues unabated and we are stepping up our publishing for matters related to “cablegate” and other materials,’ Assange told reporters after the hearing at the high-security Woolwich Crown Court.

‘Those will shortly be occurring through our newspaper partners around the world, big and small newspapers and some human rights organisations,’ added Assange.

He said he was ‘happy’ with the outcome of the 10-minute hearing.

District Judge Nicholas Evans also agreed to change Assange’s bail conditions for the full hearing, allowing him to stay at the Frontline Club, a media club in London, on the nights of February 6 and 7.

Assange has been living at the country estate of Vaughan Smith, one of the Frontline Club’s founders, in eastern England since being released on bail on December 16, nine days after his arrest by British police on a Swedish warrant.

Despite the intense interest in the case, with more than 100 journalists from around the world packed into the court, Assange appeared relaxed in the dock, joking with two female prison officers.

Hours after the hearing Assange’s lawyers released documents containing their draft argument, in which his barrister Geoffrey Robertson accused Swedish prosecutors of ‘corrupt’ behaviour.

The papers claimed the main Swedish prosecutor did not have the right to issue a European arrest warrant as only Swedish police can do so, and argued that it should not have been issued when Assange was only wanted for questioning.

But the documents also repeated Assange’s argument that the allegations against him are linked to the WikiLeaks’ disclosures about the United States, where he faces a widening criminal probe as well as widespread vilification.

If Assange is extradited to Sweden there is a ‘real risk’ he will face extradition or illegal rendition to the United States ‘where there will be a real risk of him being detained at Guantanamo Bay or elsewhere,’ they said.

‘There is a real risk that he could be made subject to the death penalty. It is well-known that prominent figures have implied, if not stated outright, that Mr Assange should be executed,’ the papers added.

The whistleblowing website has also released classified documents about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

A US court has reportedly subpoenaed the Twitter accounts of four WikiLeaks supporters as part of a criminal investigation into the leaks.

US Vice President Joe Biden last month described Assange as a ‘hi-tech terrorist.’

In a statement overnight, Assange condemned the violent rhetoric against him by a number of US politicians and media commentators and demanded that those responsible face prosecution.

He drew parallels between the language used against him and WikiLeaks and accusations that similar rhetoric led to the shooting of Democratic congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords in Arizona at the weekend.

‘When senior politicians and attention-seeking media commentators call for specific individuals or groups of people to be killed, they should be charged with incitement to murder,’ Assange said.