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Turkey halts all trade with Israel as war with Hamas in Gaza claims more civilian lives

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Istanbul — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said his country had imposed a trade ban on Israel because it could no longer "stand by and watch" the violence in Gaza. Turkey announced Thursday that it had suspended all imports and exports to Israel over its military actions in the war against Gaza's Hamas rulers.

Ankara said Friday that the ban would remain in place until a permanent cease-fire is achieved and the Israeli government allows all humanitarian aid to reach Gaza without hindrance.

"Up to now, Israel has killed 40,000 to 45,000 Palestinians without mercy. As Muslims, we could not stand by and watch," Erdogan told reporters following traditional Friday prayers in Istanbul, suggesting a death toll even higher than health officials in the Hamas-run Palestinian territory have reported since the war there broke out. It was sparked by Hamas' Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel, which left about 1,200 people dead and saw some 240 others taken hostage by the militants.

Gaza's Health Ministry said Friday that 26 more people were killed by Israeli strikes over the past 24 hours, bringing the overall Palestinian death toll from the Israel-Hamas war to at least 34,622. The ministry in Gaza — a densely populated Palestinian territory run for almost two decades by Hamas, does not distinguish between civilian and combatant casualties in its tallies, but has long said women and children make up a majority of those killed.

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Israel's military says it has killed 13,000 Palestinian militants with its war, but it has not provided evidence to back up the claim. The Israel Defense Forces and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have insisted repeatedly that all possible measures are taken to prevent civilian deaths, and they accuse Hamas of using civilians as human shields, but the U.N. said this week that the level of destruction of civilian housing in Gaza had not been seen since the second World War.

The Turkish leader had faced intense pressure to halt trade with Israel amid the spiraling civilian death toll in Gaza and his party lost some votes in local elections in March to a small Islamist party that had been critical of Turkey's continued commercial relations with the Jewish state.

"We had a trade volume that had reached $9.5 billion between us," Ergodan said Friday about Israel, "but we closed the door as though this trade volume did not exist."

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks to the press after attending Friday prayers at the Cilehane Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, May 3, 2024. Cemal Yurttas/Anadolu/Getty

Erdogan again held the United States and other Western nations responsible for deaths in the Israel-Hamas war.

"The whole West, and especially America, are working for Israel by mobilizing all resources and unfortunately the poor people of Palestine were sentenced to death through Israel's bombings," he said.

U.N. says Rafah offensive would mean "imminent risk of death" for thousands

The United Nations humanitarian aid agency said Friday, meanwhile, that hundreds of thousands of people would be "at imminent risk of death" if Israel carries out a military assault in the southern Gaza city of Rafah as it has vowed to do.

Jens Laerke, spokesperson for the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said Rafah had become a crucial hub for distribution of humanitarian aid into and around Gaza since Israel launched its assault on Hamas.

Sitting right on Gaza's southern border with Egypt, Rafah is pivotal for food, water, health, sanitation, hygiene and other critical support to people across the Palestinian territory, including hundreds of thousands of Gazans who fled to Rafah to escape fighting elsewhere.

Israeli attacks leave devastation in Rafah: Family's home destroyed, casualties reported
Palestinians, including children, collect belongings from the rubble of destroyed homes after Israeli attacks on the building belonging to the Shaheen family, as Israeli attacks continue, May 3, 2024, in Rafah, Gaza. Abed Rahim Khatib/Anadolu/Getty

Laerke told reporters at a regular U.N. briefing in Geneva that the displaced masses in the city "would be at imminent risk of death if there is an assault."

World Health Organization officials said they have been preparing contingency plans for a possible assault in Rafah. They noted, meanwhile, that more food has been reaching beleaguered Palestinians in recent weeks, but the threat of famine remains.

Dr. Rik Peeperkorn, the WHO representative for occupied Palestinian areas, said by videoconference that the threat of famine had "absolutely not" declined. Dr. Ahmed Dahir, the head of WHO's office in Gaza, said the food situation was fragile, and "the risk of famine has not passed."

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