20,000 Turks protest against Israel

ISTANBUL  (AP) — About 20,000 pro-Islamic Turks chanted “Down with Israel” to protest Israel’s offensive in the Gaza Strip on Sunday, a day after the Turkish foreign minister called the offensive in response to the abduction of an Israeli soldier “horrifying”. Israel on Sunday said it will continue its offensive in the Gaza Strip until Palestinians release the Israeli soldier and halt their rocket attacks, rejecting international criticism that the army has used excessive force during a nearly two-week operation in the coastal area.

An estimated 20,000 angry protesters gathered on Istanbul’s Caglayan square, where banners read: “Don’t remain a spectator to oppression.” The demonstrators, including hundreds of people who travelled to Istanbul from other cities, shouted anti-Israeli slogans.

Israeli ground troops entered Gaza on June 28, three days after Palestinians crossed into southern Israel and captured an Israeli soldier. Israeli forces have battered the coastal strip with heavy artillery barrages and air strikes in the army’s largest operation in Gaza since withdrawing all troops and settlers from the area last year.

Palestinian hospital officials say 44 Palestinians have been killed in the offensive and more than 160 wounded. One Israeli soldier was killed last week. Military officials said Sunday he most likely was shot accidentally by Israeli forces.

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul strongly criticised Israel Saturday before leaving for Iran, where he attended a meeting of countries that neighbour Iraq.

“The killing of this many Palestinians before the world’s eyes is really horrifying,” Gul said.

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