February 3, 2009 - 1:00am

Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan said Tuesday his government remains committed to mediating a peace deal between Israel and Palestinians despite an angry public exchange last week with Israel's president.

Erdogan also said U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon had phoned him Monday to ask him to continue Turkey's role as a Middle East mediator.

Erdogan accused Shimon Peres on January 30 of "knowing very well how to kill" during a panel discussion, that included Ban and the Arab League's Amr Moussa, on the Israeli incursion in Gaza at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. Erdogan then stormed off the stage.

"If a demand arises from the parties, we again would shoulder this mission (of mediation)," Erdogan told members of his party in parliament.

"The role of mediation does not prevent us from telling the truth. We don't voice our criticisms only to Israel, we tell every side, including Hamas."

Turkey, a predominantly, non-Arab Muslim country that belongs to NATO, has close military and commercial ties with Israel. It has also helped negotiate a Hamas-led ceasefire that ended the rocket attacks that Israel said forced it to launch the incursion into Gaza in December.

Turkey has also led indirect talks between Israel and Syria and sent peacekeeping troops to southern Lebanon.

Crowds demonstrated in the Gaza Strip in support of Erdogan's comments to Peres, and thousands also cheered him in Istanbul upon his return from Davos.

Some 1,300 Palestinians died in Israel's month-long attack on the Gaza Strip. Israel lost 10 soldiers and three civilians. (Reporting by Zerin Elci, writing by Ayla Jean Yackley; Editing by Richard Balmforth)


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