Recep Tayyip Erdogan was conducting his first interview with the Israeli press in more than 10 years on Monday when he was questioned about accusing the country’s government of “barbarism that surpasses Hitler” in 2014.
He was unapologetic for the remarks, which provoked outrage in Israel during international tension over Operation Protective Edge, the offensive against Hamas militants that left more than 2,200 Palestinians – mostly civilians – dead.
“I don't approve of what Hitler did, and neither do I approve of what Israel has done,” Mr Erdogan said, according to a translation by AFP.
“When it's a question of so many people dying, it's inappropriate to ask who was the more barbarous.”
The Times of Israel reported a slightly different translation from the remarks in Turkish, quoting Mr Erdogan saying: “There’s no place for comparison in order to say what’s more barbaric.”
His comments on Israel’s Channel 2 came as Israel and Turkey attempt to improve relations marred by the killing of 10 Turks in an Israeli commando raid on a ship heading towards Gaza in 2010, prompting Ankara to expel the Israeli ambassador and freeze all defence ties.
Mr Erdogan made another Nazi comparison in the aftermath of the attack, accusing Israel of "keeping Hitler's spirit alive" and has also claimed the Jewish state is carrying out "genocide" on Palestinians.
On Monday, he told Channel 2 he was "well aware" of the sensitivities associated with Hitler, blamed for the deaths of some six million Jewish people in the Holocaust.
But he said he found it "impossible to forget the hundreds, the thousands of people who died when [the Israeli military] struck Gaza".
Israel and Turkey have recently been working to improve cooperation and are holding talks on building an ambitious pipeline project to pump Israeli gas to Turkey and Europe.
Last week, Turkey appointed a foreign policy advisor as ambassador to Israel, sealing the normalisation of diplomatic relations after a six-year rupture but considerable tensions remain.
Mr Erdogan frequently speaks on Palestinian issues and human rights abuses in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as meeting the leader of Hamas, which is classified as a terrorist group by Israel.
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