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Turkey calls for Israeli minister to be sacked

By Catrina Stewart in Jerusalem

Turkey's Prime Minister has urged Israel to sack its controversial foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, arguing that he is an obstacle to peace in the region.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, a vocal critic of Israeli policies, sounded some of the harshest criticism yet of Mr Lieberman from an erstwhile ally, describing him as a "despicable" man who is "a problem at the head of Israel".

His undiplomatic comments appeared to reflect Ankara's deep resentment at a series of verbal barbs directed at Turkey by the ultra-nationalist politician in recent weeks. Earlier this month, Mr Lieberman likened Turkey to a country on the brink of an Islamic-style revolution that overthrew the Shah in Iran in 1979, and said that the two countries' anti-Israel "vitriol" was almost identical.

"Mr Lieberman is Israel's chief problem and the Israelis should get rid of him," Mr Erdogan told Al Jazeera satellite channel. "This is their problem not ours. If Israel doesn't fire him, their problems will get worse."

Mr Lieberman is seen to have undermined efforts by Israel to resolve a diplomatic crisis that followed Israel's storming of a Gaza-bound ship last May, which resulted in the death of Turkish activists. Ankara has demanded an apology and compensation, but the foreign minister has repeatedly said that Israel will never give that. His remarks have proved an embarrassment for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is keen to restore ties.

Within Israel, Mr Lieberman remains a highly divisive figure, reviled by the left and feted by the right. A former nightclub bouncer from Moldova, he has an assault charge to his name, and once said Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak could "go to hell". He has also advocated dumping Palestinian prisoners into the sea.

But he struck a deep chord with many when he expressed skepticism over the likelihood of success in Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. Moreover, his questioning of the loyalty of Israel's Arab citizens, the Palestinians who accepted citizenship in 1948, has also echoed the fears of many right-wing voters.

So far, Mr Netanyahu has tolerated Mr Lieberman, whose Yisrael Beitenu party is a critical partner in his fragmented coalition. But Mr Lieberman recently earned a rare public rebuke, prompting speculation that the premier's patience could finally be wearing thin.


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