Adana (Turkey): Hundreds of pro-Palestine protesters attempted to storm an airbase where US troops are stationed in southern Turkey on Sunday, demanding the closure of the facility and denouncing US support for Israel. Turkish police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the angry crowd, who threw stones, chairs, and other objects at the security forces. The incident occurred hours before US Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrived in Ankara for talks on the Gaza situation.
The protesters, who were organized by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), an Islamic Turkish aid agency, gathered at Incirlik Air Base in Adana province, waving Turkish and Palestinian flags and chanting slogans. The US-led coalition has used Incirlik Air Base to support the fight against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq. According to the US Department of Defense, there are about 2,500 US personnel at the base.
The IHH, which has close ties to the Turkish government, has been vocal in its criticism of Israel’s attacks on Gaza and its support for the Palestinian militant group Hamas. Turkey, which has diplomatic relations with both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, has called for an immediate end to the Israeli aggression and a two-state solution to the conflict. Turkey has also accused some Western countries, especially the US, of being biased in favor of Israel and failing to protect the rights of the Palestinians.
The IHH protest was part of a series of demonstrations that have taken place across Turkey since the outbreak of the Israel-Hamas war on May 10. The IHH said that its aim was to “send a message to the world that the Turkish people will not remain silent in the face of the oppression and massacres in Gaza” and to “urge the Turkish government to take more effective steps to end the Israeli occupation and siege of Palestine”.
However, the protest turned violent when the crowd tried to break through the barricades and reach the airbase. The police responded by firing tear gas and water cannons to push them back. The footage of the clash showed protesters hurling plastic chairs, stones and other items at the police, who were wearing helmets and shields. Some protesters were seen holding banners that read “Down with US imperialism” and “Zionism is a crime against humanity”.
The IHH chairman, Bulent Yildirim, who was present at the scene, addressed the crowd and urged them to refrain from attacking the police. He said that the police and the soldiers were also sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and would join the fight if they had the chance. He said “Friends, throwing stones or doing such things is wrong because both the police and the soldiers would like to go to Gaza and fight and when the time comes, they will go. Our anger is immense. We can’t stop it. But Turkey is doing only what it can do”. He also said that the protest was not against the Turkish state but against the US and Israel. He said that the IHH would continue its activities until the liberation of Palestine.
Due to the clashes with the police, the IHH ended its rally earlier than planned. The rally came hours before Blinken was expected to arrive in Ankara on Monday for talks on Gaza with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. Blinken, who is on a Middle East tour to consolidate the ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, is likely to face tough questions from the Turkish side over the US stance on the conflict. Turkey has expressed its dissatisfaction with the US blocking of a UN Security Council statement calling for a ceasefire and its approval of a $735 million arms sale to Israel amid the hostilities. Turkey has also called for the involvement of other regional actors, such as Egypt and Qatar, in the mediation efforts.