Turkey sharply criticizes Israel's Gaza offensive

By the Associated Press | November 20, 2012 | 8:34 AM EST

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses a meeting of Muslim religious leaders from Europe and Asia, in Istanbul, Turkey, Monday, Nov. 19. 2012.(AP Photo)

ANKARA, Turkey (AP) — Turkey's prime minister is accusing Israel's leaders of trying to eliminate the Palestinian population in the Gaza Strip.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan says Israel's actions cannot be described as self-defense against Hamas rocket attacks, as the U.S. and other Israeli allies have done. He calls the offensive "terrorism."

The Turkish leader, speaking Tuesday in Parliament, called Israeli actions an "attempt at ethnic cleansing," a euphemism used to describe how violence can be used to force a population from an area.

Erdogan's comments came as Turkey's foreign minister and Arab League foreign ministers headed to Gaza to try to secure a truce.

Turkey is one of the few Muslim countries to have had good relations with Israel, but they collapsed after a deadly Israeli raid on the Gaza-bound aid ship in 2010.