- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 9, 2002

KONYA, Turkey Large pro-Palestinian street demonstrations and the drumbeat of a news media harshly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon have placed Turkey's strategic ties with Israel under massive strain as Ankara seeks to quietly retain military and intelligence contact with Tel Aviv.

A demonstration at Konya's 13th-century Iplikci Mosque was one of several held in Turkish cities over the weekend as thousands of people vented their anger against Israeli attacks on Palestinians.

But the demonstrators were equally outraged at their own government for maintaining close military ties with Israel when its army is moving against fellow Muslims.

"It is an outrage that we have these connections with Israel," said Murat Yildirim, a graduate student in engineering who held a placard equating Mr. Sharon with Adolph Hitler.

"We should be standing alongside our Muslim brothers, but how can we do that when our government signs contracts with Sharon?" Mr. Yildirim said.

He referred to the approval last month of a $668 million contract given to Israel Military Industries to upgrade 170 of Turkey's U.S.-made M-60 A-1 battle tanks.

Opposition politicians and influential journalists have called for the contract to be abrogated since Israel's incursion into the West Bank and detention of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

The Israeli-Turkish relationship began as a strategic move by Ankara to squeeze Syria into halting its support for the Kurdish PKK separatist guerrilla group.

That strategy bore fruit when Damascus expelled PKK leader Abdullah Ocalan, who was later captured in 1999 by Turkish operatives, reportedly with support from Israel's Mossad intelligence agency.

The military leadership and Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit said they have no intentions of canceling the tank contract, which was negotiated over the past 18 months.

"We attach great importance to our relations with Israel," Mr. Ecevit said on Friday after he was forced to backtrack on a comment that the Israelis were committing "genocide" against the Palestinians.

The Turkish dilemma comes amid continuing protests throughout the Islamic world against Israel.

In Kuwait yesterday, thousands took to the streets in the biggest pro-Palestinian rally there since the Gulf war.

In Jordan, police clashed with protesters, and King Abdullah II said he would tolerate no disunity in his country.

Palestinians form the majority of Jordan's population and are becoming harder to placate.

Jordanian police fired tear gas at thousands of protesting Palestinians in the second day of clashes at Beqaa, a refugee camp on the outskirts of Amman, Reuters news agency reported.

King Abdullah told Jordanians in a televised address he would deal with any potential threats to the country's stability arising from such protests.

"The Jordanians, people and institutions, are angry at what is happening in Palestinian land. But the stability and national unity of Jordan is a red line," the monarch said in a televised speech to the Cabinet.

In 1970, Jordan's late King Hussein won a civil war and drove the Palestinian fighting core out of Jordan.

Protesters marching to Kuwait's parliament for a rally, which witnesses said numbered well over 10,000, called on Arab leaders to support the Palestinians, Reuters also reported.

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