David Cameron defended his remarks at a press conference with Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photograph: Pool/REUTERS
David Cameron used a visit to Turkey to make his strongest intervention yet in the intractable Middle East conflict today when he likened the experience of Palestinians in the blockaded Gaza Strip to that of a “prison camp”.
Although he has made similar remarks before, his decision to repeat them on a world stage in Turkey, whose relations with Israel have deteriorated sharply since it mounted a deadly assault on the Gaza flotilla, gave them much greater diplomatic significance.
Cameron’s comments, in a speech to business leaders in Ankara, prompted the Turkish prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, to issue another strong condemnation of how Israel dealt with the flotilla.
Erdogan likened the behaviour of Israeli commandos, who shot dead nine Turkish pro-Palestinian activists, to Somali pirates.
Cameron’s criticism of Tel Aviv came when he called for Israel to relax its restrictions on Gaza. “The situation in Gaza has to change,” he said. “Humanitarian goods and people must flow in both directions. Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp.”
He strongly condemned Israel after the assault on the Gaza flotilla. “The Israeli attack on the Gaza flotilla was completely unacceptable,” he said. “I have told prime minister [Benjamin] Netanyahu we will expect the Israeli inquiry to be swift, transparent and rigorous. “Let me also be clear that the situation in Gaza has to change.”
Cameron defended his remarks at a press conference with Erdogan. “My description of Gaza is something I said in the House of Commons several weeks ago. Perhaps this is final proof that if you want to keep something completely secret you should announce it in the House of Commons.”
Hansard, the House of Commons’ official record, shows Cameron said on 28 June: “Everybody knows that we are not going to sort out the problem of the Middle East peace process while there is, effectively, a giant open prison in Gaza.”