Arab league chief Amr Moussa accused Israel on Thursday of continued "atrocity and assault" in the Middle East in violation of human rights and international law.
Moussa, speaking at an economic forum between Turkey and Arab nations, said "Israel is the main reason for the black hole in the region."
He also praised Turkey for challenging Israel following the May 31 Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla that left eight Turks and a Turkish-American teenager dead. Israel insists its commandoes acted in self-defense after being attacked by pro-Palestinian activists.
Moussa said the nine dead "are our martyrs as well."
The meeting opened with calls for an international investigation into the deadly Israeli raid.
Turkey's popularity in the Muslim world has surged as it led the world in condemning Israel for the raid on aid ships trying to break Israel's blockade of Gaza. Turkey also won favor among Arab allies for objecting to new sanctions against Iran, which the U.N. Security Council passed Wednesday after rejecting an Iranian nuclear fuel swap-deal brokered by Ankara.
Turkey — a non-Arab, predominantly Muslim country — is watching developments "concerning security and stability in the Middle East and the Gulf region," Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in his opening speech to the Turkish-Arab Economic Forum, attended by Lebanon's Prime Minister Saad Hariri and foreign ministers from about 15 other Arab nations.
Hariri said the Middle East was suffering under Israel's "criminal and barbaric" attitude.
"We support Turkey's demands not only about the international investigation, but for Israel to apologize," Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said. "We support Turkey's demand to try those behind these acts."
Turkey also says Israel's partial easing of its Gaza blockade was not enough. Earlier this week in Istanbul, Turkey urged Israel along with 21 Asian countries to join the nuclear nonproliferation treaty and place its nuclear capabilities under the safeguards of the International Atomic Agency.
It said Israel should not be left out from any scrutiny of its alleged nuclear arsenal, which Israel has never confirmed, and also said Iran should be able to use nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
Although courting membership in the European Union, Turkey has also strengthened its ties with its Arab neighbors by mediating several conflicts, cultivating new relationships with former rivals such as Syria and Iran, forging free trade zones and gradually lifting mutual visa requirements.
The economic forum, set up in 2007, aims to build on a trade volume that soared to $29 billion last year between Turkey and Arab League countries, from $13 billion in 2004.
Erdogan said direct investments from the Middle East, Gulf and North Africa countries had reached a total of $8 billion in Turkey over the last five years — a figure that could be improved.
"These figures do not reflect our real potential, and we must work together harder to promote our economic and trade relations," Erdogan said. "We aim to create a free trade are with Arab countries."
Turkey already has free-trade agreements with Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, Syria, Palestine and Tunisia, and is negotiating similar deals with Lebanon and Libya, he said.
Turkey also recently lifted entry visa requirements for Jordanians, Libyans, Syrians and Lebanese and would like to extend "the free-trade and visa-free zone" to other countries in the region, Erdogan said.
Associated Press Writer Suzan Fraser in Ankara contributed to this report.
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