ISLAMABAD - Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, during a visit to Pakistan Friday, reiterated strong opposition to U.S. President Donald Trump's recently announced Middle East peace initiative, denouncing it as an "occupation project."
In his address to a special joint session of the Pakistani parliament, Erdogan said that protecting Jerusalem is a "red line" for his country and Ankara will never leave the holy city to the mercy of what he called the invading Israeli state.
"We strongly responded and will continue to give the strongest response to the occupation, annexation and destruction plan announced by the U.S. government," said the Turkish leader.
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The peace plan, announced two weeks ago, calls for Israel to keep control of all of Jerusalem, with its Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites. It would allow Israel to immediately annex large parts of the occupied West Bank, including Jewish settlements that are considered illegal by the Palestinians and most of the international community. Palestinians have reacted angrily to the proposal.
"The so-called 'Deal of the Century' is not a peace project but in fact a project for occupation," said Erdogan.
Erdogan arrived in Islamabad on Thursday for a two-day official visit, with a large delegation of senior Turkish officials and business leaders accompanying him.
The Turkish president and his host, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, oversaw the signing of around a dozen agreements aimed at enhancing their relationship in a number of areas, including the economic, science and technology, cultural and tourism sectors.
The Turkish president, in his speech to the parliament Friday, repeated Ankara's position on Pakistan's tensions with rival India over the disputed Kashmir region
"The issue of Kashmir is as close to us as it is to you (Pakistan)," he said. "The Kashmir problem can be solved not by conflict or oppression, but on the basis of justice and equity," Erdogan said.
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His remarks mirrored Islamabad's traditional stance on a decades-old dispute that has sparked two of three wars between Pakistan and India and remains a primary source of regional tensions.
Both nuclear-armed nations control portions of Kashmir and claim it in its entirety.
Bilateral tensions have dangerously escalated since last August, when New Delhi unilaterally revoked a decades-old constitutional autonomous status for the Indian-controlled portion of Kashmir. India says the move will help stamp out terrorism and spur development in the country's most restive region.
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The controversial move was coupled with the imposition of an unprecedented security and communications lockdown in Kashmir, effectively cutting off millions of residents of the Muslim-majority region from the rest of the world, although the restrictions have been partially eased in recent weeks.
Islamabad denounced the Indian action as a violation of United Nations resolutions that prevent both parties from unilaterally altering Kashmir's status.
"Our Kashmiri brothers and sisters have suffered from inconveniences for decades and these sufferings have become graver due to unilateral steps taken in recent times," Erdogan said.
"This approach aggravates the current situation and revokes the freedom and vested rights of the Kashmiri people, which benefits no one," the Turkish president said.
India rejects criticism of its Kashmir-related steps, saying it is an "internal" matter. It also has long accused Pakistan of providing support to insurgents fighting Indian rule in Kashmir, charges Pakistani leaders deny.