Thousands of pro-Palestinian demonstrators gathered at Incirlik Air Base in Türkiye on Sunday to protest US support for Israel. The protests turned violent as police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse the crowd. The demonstration was organized by the Humanitarian Relief Foundation (IHH), a Turkish NGO, which called on its supporters to “surround” the base upon arrival.
The convoy of protesters, consisting of cars and buses adorned with Palestinian and Turkish flags, left Istanbul on Friday and made its way to Incirlik Air Base near the Syrian border. Security at the base was heightened in anticipation of the protest, and local police fired tear gas canisters into the crowd before the demonstrators could encircle the facility. Some protesters chanted pro-Hamas slogans during the demonstration.
Despite the crackdown, there were no reported casualties, and the IHH organizers called on the crowd to disperse following the incident. However, this protest is just one of many that have erupted across Türkiye in response to Israel’s air campaign against Hamas. The Israeli government claims to be targeting the Gaza-based militant group, but according to UN figures, 67% of those killed in the bombing campaign have been women and children. The situation has escalated further as Israeli tanks and troops have entered the enclave, resulting in over 9,700 Palestinian deaths, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. In the same period, more than 1,400 people have been killed in Israel, most of them during Hamas’ assault on the Jewish state.
The US has been a staunch supporter of Israel throughout the conflict, providing arms, ammunition, and funding. Additionally, the US has deployed two aircraft carrier groups to the region. However, this support has strained relations between the US and Türkiye. In response, Ankara has recalled its ambassador to Israel, and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has accused the Israeli military of war crimes. Erdogan has also broken contact with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stating that Ankara will ensure those responsible for war crimes in Gaza face justice.
Incirlik Air Base has been used by the US since the mid-1950s and has served various purposes over the years. It has been a staging site for reconnaissance flights over the Soviet Union, combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and air support missions during the US campaign against ISIS in 2015. Additionally, the base houses around 50 B61 nuclear bombs.
Incirlik Air Base has previously been a focal point for anti-US and anti-NATO protests. In 2016, during a coup attempt against Erdogan, thousands of demonstrators surrounded the facility and burned American flags.
Overall, the protest at Incirlik Air Base highlights the growing discontent in Türkiye over US support for Israel and the ongoing conflict in Gaza. The demonstrations reflect the frustration and anger felt by many in the country, who condemn Israel’s actions and call for justice for the Palestinian people.