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With Pressure Rising for a Gaza Cease-Fire, Turkey Cuts Trade With Israel

Turkey said on Friday that it would suspend all trade with Israel until there was a “permanent cease-fire” in the Gaza Strip, the latest international sanction against Israel and one that underscores the mounting global pressure to end the war in the territory.

Turkey’s announcement built on statements the previous day that it had halted all trade with Israel until “uninterrupted and adequate humanitarian aid is allowed into Gaza.” But even as Turkey announced the measures, Israel continued its repeated warnings that it was preparing for an offensive in the southern Gaza city of Rafah that the United Nations said on Friday could result in a “slaughter” in Gaza.

In announcing the trade suspension, the Turkish trade minister, Omer Bolat, spoke of Israel’s “uncompromising attitude.” Turkey’s president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, told a business association on Friday that he anticipated backlash from Western countries but that Turkey had decided to “stand side by side with the persecuted.”

Israel’s foreign minister, Israel Katz, reacted to the move by lashing out at Mr. Erdogan. “This is how a dictator behaves, disregarding the interests of the Turkish people and businessmen, and ignoring international trade agreements,” Mr. Katz said in a social media post.

Turkey has a large trade surplus with Israel, according to the latest United Nations figures, with $5.4 billion in exports to Israel last year and $1.64 billion in imports.

Mr. Erdogan has criticized Israel’s bombardment of Gaza and has also defended Hamas. In April, he met with Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’s political leader. “Israel will certainly pay the price of the atrocities it has been inflicting on Palestinians one day,” he said at the time.

Israel’s international isolation has mounted as its devastating military offensive in Gaza has unfolded. Some countries have downgraded ties while others have cut them entirely. Close partners such as the United States, Britain and Germany, while still remaining strongly supportive of Israel, have become more openly critical of its conduct and of the recently increased but still inadequate pace of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

On Wednesday, Colombia became the latest country in Central or South America to break ties with Israel, following Bolivia and Belize early in the war. Colombia had already recalled its ambassador to Israel, as did Chile and Honduras. Arab states like Jordan and Bahrain, with whom Israel cooperates closely on security, also sent their ambassadors home early in the war amid public outcry over the rising death toll.

The shifting tone toward the war reflects the tremendous cost for Palestinians. Over the past seven months, more than 34,000 people have been killed in Gaza, most of them women and children, according to local health officials. Israel’s offensive followed the Hamas-led attack on Oct. 7 that left 1,200 dead and another 250 taken hostage, according to Israeli officials.

The Biden administration, Israel’s most important ally, has shown no sign of pulling back military support, even as it warns against an Israeli invasion of Rafah, where more than a million displaced Palestinians are sheltering in tents.

Jens Laerke, a spokesman for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, said at a news briefing in Geneva on Friday that an incursion into Rafah “could be a slaughter of civilians” and warned that a Rafah ground offensive also might result in an “incredible blow to the humanitarian operations in the entire strip.”

U.N. officials describe Rafah, which is on the border with Egypt, as the heart of humanitarian relief operations in Gaza. Dozens of organizations have warehouses there, and the border crossing with Egypt is where nearly all medical supplies come into Gaza, they said.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel has vowed repeatedly to continue offensive operations in Gaza until Hamas is eliminated as a military threat, and he says Rafah remains a target because the militant group’s last four battalions are hiding out in tunnels there.

Amid the growing pressure, Israel won a reprieve this week when a United Nations court declined to order Germany to suspend arms sales to Israel. The country is Israel’s second-biggest supplier of weapons, after the United States.

Still, the moves by Turkey and others highlight the toll that the war in Gaza, now nearly seven months old, is exacting on Israel’s global standing.

Israel and Turkey had enjoyed a rapprochement in recent years — in 2022, the two countries announced that they would restore full diplomatic ties — but hopes for warmer relations appear to have been dashed by the war.

Many of Israel’s allies are now calling for a cease-fire. In March, the U.N. Security Council passed a resolution seeking an immediate cease-fire in the Gaza Strip during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

The war has also prompted renewed calls by the United States and many European and Arab countries to take credible steps toward establishing a Palestinian state, a move that Mr. Netanyahu strongly opposes.

Spain and Ireland, among other European nations, are advocating the largely symbolic step of recognizing a state of Palestine, which Israel also opposes. Washington has long said that while it backs the eventual establishment of a Palestinian state, any recognition should come after negotiations between Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

The director of the Central Intelligence Agency, William Burns, arrived in Cairo on Friday, according to a person briefed on negotiations between Israel and Hamas for a cease-fire in Gaza. Egypt, Qatar and the United States have been leading efforts to broker a deal for a cease-fire and hostage release.

Hamas announced on Friday night that it would send a delegation to Cairo on Saturday to continue talks. It did not say whether it had issued a formal response to the current proposal but said it was committed to “an agreement that would realize what our people demand: a total end to the aggression, the withdrawal of occupation forces, the return of the displaced, humanitarian aid and the beginning of reconstruction, and a serious exchange agreement.”

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