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Turkish police tear gas pro-Palestinian protesters at air base

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Turkish police Sunday fired tear gas to disperse a pro-Palestinian rally staged outside a military base housing US forces just hours before the arrival in Ankara of Washington’s top diplomat, Agence France-Presse reported.

The protest outside the İncirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey was organized by the İHH humanitarian relief fund, which in 2010 led a flotilla to Gaza that sparked Israeli raids in which 10 civilians died.

An AFP photographer said the police intervened when the crowd began to walk toward the base after holding a peaceful rally in İncirlik.

Images on social media showed several hundred people waving Palestinian flags, running across a field chased by the police, who also used water cannons.

There were no immediate reports of injuries or arrests. US officials issued no immediate comment.

The Mediterranean coastal base is owned by Turkey but used by the US Air Force and occasionally Britain’s Royal Air Force, providing them with strategic access to large parts of the Middle East.

The İHH protest was timed to coincide with a visit to Ankara by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who was to arrive late Sunday and meet Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Monday.

Nearly 1,000 people also rallied Sunday outside the US embassy in Ankara, according to an AFP photographer at the scene.

NATO member Turkey has been hit by weeks of occasionally vast protests since Israel went to war against Hamas last month.

Israel is trying to crush militants who staged the deadliest attack in the country’s history on October 7, killing more than 1,400 people, mostly civilians, and taking 240 hostages, according to Israeli officials.

Israel’s bombardment of the besieged Gaza Strip has killed more than 9,770 people, mostly women and children, according to the Hamas-run health ministry.

‘Behind the scenes’

Turkey, which itself has been battling a decades-long Kurdish insurgency that has claimed tens of thousands of lives, initially defended Israel’s right to fight back against Hamas.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has toughened up his tone as the war grinds on and the civilian death toll climbs.

Erdoğan has repeatedly lashed out at the United States for supporting the Israeli operation, which he has compared to “genocide”.

He led a massive rally in Istanbul last month that he said was attended by 1.5 million people, calling Israel an “occupier” that was acting like a “war criminal.”

Turkey said Saturday it was recalling its ambassador to Israel for consultations and breaking off contacts with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom Erdoğan holds personally responsible for the civilian toll.

Israel and Turkey had been gradually mending their relations, which ruptured in the wake of the 2010 IHH attempt to break Israel’s siege of the Gaza Strip.

They reappointed ambassadors last year and were relaunching discussions about a US-backed natural gas pipeline that could have formed the basis for more lasting ties.

Blinken, who paid an unannounced visit to the West Bank on Sunday as part of his Middle East tour, will be traveling to Turkey for the first time since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

But Erdoğan will be touring Turkey’s remote northeast on Monday, making it unlikely he will personally meet the US diplomat.

The Turkish leader said on Sunday that Ankara was “working behind the scenes” to stop the bloodshed and ensure the delivery of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

“Be assured that we are doing much more than meets the eye,” Erdoğan said in televised remarks.

Fidan spoke by phone Sunday with his Egyptian and Jordanian counterparts, according to a Turkish diplomatic source.

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