Turkish PM vows to pursue Israel over `state terror`

Turkey is calling for an independent international inquiry into incident.

Ankara: Turkey`s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan vowed on Sunday to hold Israel to account over its "state terror" in the Middle East as thousands protested against the deadly raid on Gaza-bound aid ships.

The Israeli operation, in which nine Turks were killed, has plunged the fragile ties between the onetime strong allies into a deep crisis, with Erdogan hardening his strong criticism of the Jewish state.

Gaza "is a historical cause for us," Erdogan said in a public speech in the northwestern city of Bursa, parts of which were carried by the CNN-Turk news channel.

"We object to those who force the people of Gaza to live in an open-air prison... We will stand firm until the blockade on Gaza is lifted, the massacres cease and the state terror in the Middle East is accounted for," he added.

Israel has cut Gaza off from all but vital humanitarian aid in a bid to pressure the enclave`s rulers -- the Palestinian Islamist movement Hamas -- to end rocket attacks on the south of the Jewish state.

Turkey recalled its ambassador to Tel Aviv and cancelled joint military exercises after last week`s raid, while demanding a formal apology from Israel and calling for an independent international inquiry into the incident.

Erdogan said he held a telephone conversation with UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Saturday during which they discussed plans for a international commission to investigate the deaths.

"The work that this commission will do is very, very important for us. I hope we will get a result from it," he added.

In Ankara, some 6,000 to 7,000 people gathered under pouring rain in a central square, shouting "Damn Israel! Murderer Israel, get out of the Middle East!", a report said.

Some protestors set fire to a picture of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as others held up a banner depicting him as a a pirate with a hook arm next to the inscription: `The Flotilla of Humanity Against Pirates`.

In Istanbul, some 1,000 people called on the government to expel Israeli diplomats.

PTI