Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is returning an award given to him by a Jewish American group in 2004, after the group asked for it back
because of comments he made regarding the conflict in Gaza.
Turkey's US ambassador wrote to Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress, on Erdogan's behalf saying that because of Israel's actions in Gaza and "the regrettable stance" of the American Jewish Congress, Erdogan "will be glad to return the award." The letter, dated July 27, was made available Tuesday.
Last week, Rosen described Erdogan as "arguably the most virulent anti-Israel leader in the world." He said Erdogan was given the Profile of Courage award for working for a peaceful solution in the Middle East his commitment to protecting Turkey's Jewish citizens.
Rosen's open letter to Erdogan had cited the Turkish leader's recent comments that Israel had "surpassed Hitler in barbarism" through its attacks on Gaza.
Erdogan's office released a copy of the response letter to the media, describing it as Turkey's official response.
"The absence of this award will not prevent Prime Minister Erdogan from resolutely fighting against terrorism, working towards the peaceful solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and upholding the safety and well-being of the Jewish community in Turkey," the letter continued.
The US State Department called Erdogan's earlier remarks, in which he likened an Israeli MP to Hitler and said the Jewish state was terrorising the region, "offensive and wrong".
Relations between Turkey and Israel have hit their "lowest level" amid the Jewish state's assault on the Gaza Strip, and may not be able to improve for some time, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc said.
Arinc, one of the founding members of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's Islamist-influenced AKP party, said Turkey had always calibrated its relations with Israel according to Israel's behavior towards the Palestinians.
"Our relations have always been reduced to a minimum whenever Israel continued occupation, dropped bombs in Palestine and carried out massacres," he told AFP in an interview in Ankara on Thursday.
Israel has withdrawn most of its diplomatic staff from Turkey after violent protests against its missions while Erdogan has enraged Israeli leaders by describing the Gaza assault as a genocide.
"The lowest level (in relations) right now will maybe continue for a while," said Arinc.
A Turkish daily affiliated with Erdogan sparked a furor after it called on the country's Jewish community to apologize for the Palestinian casualties of the Israeli operation in Gaza.
"You came here after being banished from Spain," Yeni Akit correspondent Faruk Köse wrote Wednesday in an open letter to Hakham Bashi, the chief rabbi of Turkey's Jewish community. "You have lived comfortably among us for 500 years and gotten rich at our expense. Is this your gratitude – killing Muslims? Erdogan, demand that the community leader apologize!"
In the right-wing newspaper's editorial, Ali Karahasanoğlu wrote: "After the barrage of missiles which hit the capital city of Tel Aviv, Israel has been pushed into a corner and is crying out for a ceasefire, which at the moment only serves Israel and the United States.
The Associated Press and AFP contributed to this report