Turkish PM Erdogan
Turkish PM ErdoganIsrael news photo: (file)

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at Israel on Sunday as he came to the defense of Sudanese President Omar Hassan al-Bashir, who faces worldwide condemnation for the genocide taking place in the Darfur region of his country.

Addressing members of his party, Erdogan said he preferred meeting with Bashir over meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu. “I wouldn't be able to speak with Netanyahu so comfortably as I would with Bashir,” he was quoted by Turkish media as saying. “I would say to [Bashir's] face, 'What you've done is wrong.'”

Erdogan's remark joined several other recent anti-Israel statements that have led to a cooling of ties between Israel and Turkey in recent months.

Erdogan claimed to know that Bashir is innocent, and that there is no genocide taking place in Sudan. “A Muslim can never commit genocide,” he said in explanation. “It's not possible.”

The Turkish PM added that he had visited Darfur and did not see evidence of genocide during his trip.

Bashir announced Sunday that he would postpone a planned visit in Turkey, where he was to attend a meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). While Turkish media reported that Bashir may come on Monday or Tuesday instead of Sunday, the Reuters news service reported that Bashir's visit had been canceled due to an international arrest warrant against him for crimes against humanity.

The United Nations and international activist groups believe that up to 300,000 people have been killed in fighting in Sudan's Darfur regions, where they say government-backed Arab Muslim militias are slaughtering local black African Muslims. The Sudanese government denies committing genocide.