Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, in his strongest comments yet on the Gaza conflict, said on Wednesday the Palestinian militant group Hamas was not a terrorist organisation but a liberation group fighting to protect Palestinian lands and people.
Speaking to lawmakers from his ruling AK Party, Erdogan also called for an immediate ceasefire between Israeli and Palestinian forces and said Muslim countries must act together to secure a lasting peace in the region.
"Hamas is not a terrorist organisation, it is a liberation group, 'mujahideen' waging a battle to protect its lands and people," he said, using an Arabic word denoting those who fight for their faith.
Erdogan also slammed Western powers that have voiced support for Israel's retaliation against Hamas, saying "Western tears shed for Israel are a manifestation of fraud".
Many of Turkey's NATO allies consider Hamas a terrorist group, and Erdogan's comments drew a swift rebuke from Italy's Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who said they were "grave and disgusting and did not help with de-escalation".
"I will propose to my colleague (Foreign Minister Antonio) Tajani to send a formal protest and to summon the Turkish Ambassador," Salvini said in a note.
Turkey has condemned the civilian deaths that resulted from Hamas' Oct 7 rampage in southern Israel but also urged Israel to react in a restrained way.
It has since strongly condemned Israel's heavy bombardment of Gaza, which is controlled by the militant Islamist group, while offering to mediate in the conflict and sending several shipments of humanitarian aid.
Erdogan accused Israel of taking advantage of Turkey's good intentions. Turkey had previously been working to mend long-strained ties with Israel and Erdogan said he had now cancelled a planned trip to Israel because of the events in Gaza.
Turkey, which hosts members of Hamas on its territory, backs a two-state solution to the decades-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict.