Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called on Muslims around the world to visit Al-Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to protect the site's Islamic identity. The Turkish leader also took the opportunity to heap scorn on Israel, likening the country's policies to South Africa's Apartheid era.
Speaking in Istanbul at a charity conference discussing Palestinian economic development, Erdogan lashed out at Israel regarding its settlement plans in the West Bank and Jerusalem.
"We, as Muslims, should be visiting Al-Quds more often," Erdogan said, using the Arabic name for Jerusalem. "Each day that Jerusalem is under occupation is an insult to us."
As many as 26,000 Turks visited the Temple Mount, or Noble Sanctuary, in 2016. However, Erdogan emphasised "hundreds of thousands" should be visiting the site, which is considered holy by Muslims. "[It] would be the greatest support to our brothers there," he said.
"Al-Quds is holy for all three divine religions. It is the heart and summary of all human history.
"Both in terms of our religion and historical responsibility, Al-Quds and the fight of our Palestinian brothers for rights and justice is of great importance to us. We will keep making efforts for Quds to turn into a city of peace."
Erdogan also said that permanent peace in the region would only be possible with a "fair solution to the Palestinian issue".
"What's the difference between the present acts of the Israeli administration and the racist and discriminatory politics that were practised against black people in the past in America – and up until a short time ago in South Africa."
"Here is the only solution. The establishment of a fully sovereign and independent Palestinian state, with East Jerusalem as its capital along the lines of 1967," said Erdogan, according to Anadolu.
Erdogan reiterated Turkey's support for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, and criticised attempts by Israeli lawmakers to limit the use of loudspeakers for the Muslim call to prayer (adhan).
The harsh words are notable as the two countries only recently reestablished diplomatic and ambassadorial ties.
Erdogan's speech attracted a stinging response from Israel, who said the leader has no rights to preach morality. "Whoever systematically violates human rights in his country should not preach morality to the only true democracy in the region.
"Israel adheres strictly to full freedom of worship for Jews, Muslims and Christians – and will continue to do so in spite of this baseless slander," noted a sharp statement from Israel's foreign ministry.
Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that Israel had not originally planned to respond to Erdogan's speech, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu changed his mind after the remarks were widely reported by domestic and international media.
During his address, Erdogan also warned the Trump administration not to move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, saying the step would be "extremely wrong" and "ill-advised".
Erdogan said: "It is not a simple location change. Those who think that way are not aware of how delicate the balance is in the Holy Land."