Turkey’s prime minister, an outspoken of critic of Israel, praised Egypt’s Islamist president, Mohamed Mursi, on Saturday for recalling his ambassador from Tel Aviv in response to Israeli attacks on Gaza.

Egypt, which in 1979 became the first Arab state to sign a peace treaty with Israel, recalled its envoy on Wednesday hours after Israel launched an air campaign on Gaza. Turkey withdrew its ambassador over a separate incident with Israel in 2010.

“Israel is using disproportionate force. (Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu proceeds with these kinds of actions thanks to the international negligence,” Erdogan told an enthusiastic audience in a speech at Cairo University.

Israel’s declared aim is to deter Hamas in Gaza from launching cross-border rocket salvoes that have plagued southern Israel for years.

Many Egyptians, who toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in a popular uprising in 2011, look to Turkey as a model of how a government with Islamist leanings can deliver a strong economy and play an influential regional role.

“Raise your head up high, your are Egyptian,” chanted students and others in the hall that included officials and dignitaries. “Egypt and Turkey are hand-in-hand,” they chanted.

“I congratulate my brother Mursi who recalled the Egypt ambassador in Israel after recent incidents,” Erdogan said.

Ties between Israel and Turkey, once Israel’s only Muslim ally, crumbled after Israeli marines stormed an aid ship in 2010 to enforce a naval blockade of the Palestinian-run Gaza Strip. Nine Turks were killed in clashes with activists on board.

Turkey expelled Israel’s ambassador and froze military cooperation after a U.N. report into the incident released in September last year largely exonerated the Jewish state.

“Turkey will continue to fight before the international community for our Palestinian brothers,” Erdogan said. “I congratulate Egypt’s youth and people for your revolution.”

The prime minister also repeated his call for an end to the rule of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who used his army to try to crush what began as peaceful protests and has now morphed into a civil war.

“We will continue to take steps with Egypt about the Syria crisis,” Erdogan said.

Mursi has sought to set up a regional group on Syria that comprises Egypt, Turkey and Saudi Arabia – all opposed to Assad – with Iran, which is the Syrian president’s staunch ally. After a preparatory meeting, Saudi Arabia has stayed away.

The Turkish prime minister also repeated that Turkey was ready for closer business ties with Egypt, whose economy has been pummelled by the turmoil that followed Mubarak’s overthrow.


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