In an event preceding the arrival of the United States’ top diplomat in Ankara, Turkish police employed tear gas to disperse a pro-Palestinian rally held outside the Incirlik Air Base in southeastern Turkey. The protest, organized by the IHH humanitarian relief fund, sought to draw attention to the Palestinian cause. The IHH notably led a 2010 flotilla to Gaza, resulting in Israeli raids and the tragic loss of ten civilian lives.
An eyewitness account from an AFP photographer revealed that law enforcement intervened when the peaceful rally in Incirlik escalated as the crowd began to march toward the military base. Images circulated on social media depicted hundreds of individuals waving Palestinian flags running across a field, pursued by police who also employed water cannons.
The Incirlik Air Base, situated on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, is owned by Turkey but serves as a critical installation for the United States Air Force and, on occasion, the British Royal Air Force. This strategic location provides access to vast regions of the Middle East for these military forces.
The timing of the IHH protest coincided with the visit to Ankara by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, scheduled to arrive late on Sunday and engage with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan on Monday.
Tensions escalated during the protest, as demonstrators toppled barricades and clashed with police clad in riot gear. Additionally, some protesters were observed hurling plastic chairs, rocks, and other objects at law enforcement officers, who responded by firing smoke bombs to disperse the crowds. Scuffles unfolded between the demonstrators and security forces. IHH President Bulent Yildirim addressed the gathered crowds in Adana, urging them to abstain from violence against the police.
“Friends, it is wrong to throw rocks or engage in similar actions because both the police and soldiers would want to go to Gaza and fight, and they will go when the time comes,” Yildirim emphasized. “Our rage is immense. We cannot contain it. However, Turkey is doing all it can.” Due to the clashes with the police, the IHH concluded its rally earlier than initially planned.
Simultaneously, thousands of protesters assembled in Washington on Saturday to demand a ceasefire in Gaza, where thousands have lost their lives in an Israeli offensive since October 7. They also voiced their opposition to President Joe Biden’s policy concerning the Gaza unrest.
Demonstrators carried placards bearing slogans such as “Palestinian Lives Matter,” “Let Gaza Live,” and “Their blood is on your hands.” They rallied for a blanket ceasefire in the region, despite the US government’s ongoing refusal to align with this demand.
The event was organized as the “National March on Washington: Free Palestine” by activists, who arranged for buses from across the country to transport demonstrators to the US capital. Mahdi Bray, the national director of the American Muslim Alliance, articulated the protesters’ central message, “What we want and what we demand is a ceasefire now.”
The gathering in Washington was among the most substantial pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the United States, marking one of the largest gatherings for any cause in the nation’s capital in recent years.
Crowds began congregating at Freedom Plaza near the White House in the afternoon, initiating the protest with a moment of silence as they held aloft a large poster bearing the names of Palestinians who had lost their lives at the hands of Israeli forces.
Chants resonated through the crowd, with protesters declaring, “Biden, Biden, you cannot hide; you signed up for genocide.” The US government has sought to persuade Israel to accept localized ceasefires, a proposition that Israel has thus far rebuffed.