ANKARA / Four wounded Palestinians were flown into Ankara for medical treatment on Monday, the first sign of Turkey’s promised plan to evacuate thousands from the Gaza Strip.
Turkey said last week it was seeking Israeli and Egyptian agreement for an air corridor to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza after a month of bloodshed that has killed 1,910 Palestinians and 67 Israelis.
“Our wounded from Gaza have started to come,” Turkish foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu told reporters meeting the flight from Israel’s commercial hub Tel Aviv.
Medics carried three Palestinian women and a male youth on stretchers into waiting ambulances at Ankara’s Esenboga airport.
Eager to re-establish itself as a powerhouse in a rapidly changing Middle East, Turkey is already sheltering more than a million refugees from the war in Syria and is playing a major role in the development of Iraqi Kurdistan.
Despite crumbling relations with Israel, it also hopes through its ties with the Palestinian authorities to play a part in brokering a long-term settlement in the Gaza Strip.
Pro-Palestinian sentiment runs high in mostly Sunni Muslim Turkey, and protesters have repeatedly taken to the streets in recent weeks to demonstrate against Israel’s offensive in Gaza.
The first four wounded arrived a day after Israel and the Palestinians agreed a fresh 72-hour ceasefire.
Osama Al Najar, spokesman of the ministry of health in Ramallah, in the occupied West Bank, said another 60 wounded people would be flown into Turkey later on Monday.
The Palestinian Authority had helped organise the transfer of the wounded people from Gaza to Israel and then to Turkey, he added.
Mr Davutoglu said Turkey planned to bring in around 200 wounded in the first stage of the plan and would hold further talks with Israel and Egypt — which has acted as a mediator in the conflict — to agree more flights.
Turkey’s prime minister Tayyip Erdogan announced the launch of the air corridor in his first speech after winning Sunday’s presidential election.
He described his victory as a triumph for Gaza. In campaigning ahead of the election, Mr Erdogan had likened Israel’s actions in Gaza to those of Hitler and warned it would “drown in the blood it sheds”.
Israel, which denounced Erdogan’s comments, says its offensive is intended to stop rocket fire from Gaza and to destroy tunnels some of which have been used by gunmen to infiltrate Israel.