Turkish PM gets hero's welcome after shouting match with Israeli leader

Thousands of jubilant supporters greeted the Turkish prime minister as he arrived home early Friday after a heated exchange with the Israeli president over his country's Gaza Strip offensive.
Supporters wave Turkish and Palestinian flags outside the Ataturk International Airport in Istanbul early Friday. ((Ibrahim Usta/Associated Press))

Thousands of jubilant supporters greeted the Turkish prime minister as he arrived home early Friday after a heated exchange with the Israeli president over his country's Gaza Strip offensive.

More than 5,000 people, many waving Turkish and Palestinian flags, gathered at Istanbul's Ataturk airport to welcome Recep Tayyip Erdogan when his plane touched down at 2 a.m.

Hours earlier, Erdogan clashed on stage with Israeli President Shimon Peres at a panel discussion at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

One banner held by a supporter outside the airport gate called him The Conqueror of Davos.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, left, talks to Israeli President Shimon Peres during a plenary session at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland on Thursday. ((Alessandro Della Bella/Associated Press))

The two leaders butted heads over Israel's three-week offensive against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in response to rocket attacks fired from the Palestinian territory. More than 1,300 Palestinians died in the conflict, according to Gaza health officials.

Thirteen Israelis, including three civilians, were killed.

In Gaza on Friday, a crowd of about 5,000 Hamas supporters waved red and white Turkish flags next to green Hamas banners as one of the group's leaders, Khalil al-Hayeh, emerged from hiding for the first time since the Israeli offensive and called Erdogan a "hero."

Demonstrators burned and stomped on posters of Peres and other Israeli leaders and held placards with Erdogan's picture on them.

'My respect for him didn't change': Peres

During the debate on Thursday, Peres asked the panel what others would do if they were in Israel's position and bombarded with nightly rocket attacks.

"You kill people," Erdogan told the 85-year-old Israeli leader. "I remember the children who died on beaches. I remember two former prime ministers who said they felt very happy when they were able to enter Palestine on tanks."

Erdogan grew angry when the panel moderator cut off his remarks in response to Peres's passionate defence of the Israeli offensive against Hamas and stalked off stage when asked to stop. He then said: "I will not come to Davos again."

Late Thursday, Erdogan stressed that he left the stage because he was not given time to respond and complained he was given 12 minutes to speak compared with Peres's 25.

Later, at the airport, Erdogan told reporters in brief comments that he had felt insulted and felt a responsibility to protect the Turkish nation. He also said Peres called him before he left Davos and expressed regrets.

Peres said Friday he didn't think the exchange was personal and relations between the two countries wouldn't be affected.

"I called [Erdogan] up and said, 'Yes, I do not see the matter as personal … and the relations can remain as they are," Peres said. "My respect for him didn't change. We had an exchange of views — and the views are views."

With files from the Associated Press