Muslim holidaymakers are being urged to visit Turkey this summer in an attempt to offset the impact of a boycott by Israeli visitors.
Turkish tourism officials fear the fallout from May’s Gaza flotilla raid may cost the tourism sector some US$400 million.
In response a number of Muslim scholars issued a statement praising Turkey’s position regarding Israel and welcoming Ankara’s efforts to “lift the siege on Gaza and the Palestinian people.”
The document also called on Arabs and Muslims to show support for Turkey by boosting economic ties.
Issued from Qatar, the statement was signed by such influential leaders as Dr. Yusuf al-Qaradawi, president of the International Union for Muslim Scholars; Abdullah Bin Baih, president of the Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance; Dr. Salman al-Odah, chairman of the Islam Today Group; Chakib Ben Makhlouf, head of the Islamic Organisations in Europe; and Islamic thinker Dr. Muhammad Amara.
“The fleet of freedom was a giant step that opened the door to bring the international focus on the Israeli blockade on the Gaza Strip and was an attempt by the Turkish people, who believe in justice and have a sense of deep belonging to their Islamic roots, to break the siege,” read the statement, which was first aired on Al- Jazeera.
The move comes at a time of increasing tension between the two former allies.
Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu said earlier today hsi country would sever diplomatic ties with Israel unless it apologises over the commando raid on an aid convoy to Gaza in which nine Turks died.
However, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to apologise for the raid as recently as Friday.
“Israel cannot apologize, because its soldiers had to defend themselves to avoid being lynched by a crowd,” he said in an interview with Canada’s Channel 1 public television.
Turkey has already recalled its ambassador from Israel and cancelled a series of planned military exercises.
Turkish airspace has also been closed to Israeli military flights.