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Erdoğan says Hamas militants not terrorists but ‘liberators’ fighting for their land

Recep Tayyip Erdogan

Turkey's President and leader of the Justice and Development Party Recep Tayyip Erdoğan delivers a speech during his party's group meeting in the Turkish Parliament in Ankara, on October 25, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said that Palestinian militant group Hamas, which staged a brazen attack in Israel on Oct. 7, is not a terrorist organization but rather “liberators” fighting for their land, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.

“Hamas is not a terrorist organization but it is a group of liberators and mujahedeen [warriors] who are fighting to protect their land and people,” Erdoğan said at a party meeting in parliament on Wednesday.

According to health officials in Gaza, more than 6,500 Palestinians have been killed in the Gaza Strip since Israel launched a relentless bombing campaign against the besieged enclave after the attack by Hamas Oct. 7, which left at least 1,400 people dead in Israel.

Erdoğan accused Israel of carrying out one of the “bloodiest and most brutal” attacks in the history of the Palestinians since Oct. 7 and of committing war crimes.

He said Western countries hold meetings where they declare Hamas a terrorist organization, but he accused Israel of acting like a terrorist organization.

“Oh Israel, you could be a [terrorist] organization. The West is much indebted to you, but Turkey is not,” he said, adding that Turkey will not remain silent in the wake of the killing of children by Israel in Gaza.

Some 2,500 children have been killed in the Israeli airstrikes, health officials in Gaza say.

His fiery speech was delivered in front of ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) lawmakers, who chanted, “Down with Israel,” “Allah Abkar” (God is great) and “Turkey is proud of you.”

Erdoğan accused Western countries of applying a double standard concerning the killing of civilians in Gaza at a time when they slam the killing of civilians in Ukraine by Russia.

“That those who mobilized the world in favor of Ukraine did not speak out against the massacres in Gaza is the most blatant sign of their hypocrisy,” he alleged.

“As long as innocent people continue to die in Gaza, no ship or plane sent to our region will bring peace,” Erdoğan added, referring to the US’s sending of two carrier strike groups to the eastern Mediterranean Sea in support of Israel.

He called for an “independent Palestine,” proposing that Turkey act as a “guarantor” of any future agreement.

Erdoğan’s comments about Israel on Wednesday have been the strongest remarks from him so far since Oct. 7.

Although famous for his vitriolic outbursts against Israel in its previous attacks on Palestinians, Erdoğan, a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause, has been relatively moderate this time, in the beginning asking both sides to avoid harming civilians.

His discourse has become harsher as the civilian death toll in Gaza has risen, prompting many people across Turkey to take to the streets in protest of Israel.

Many of Turkey’s NATO allies consider Hamas a terrorist group, and Erdoğan’s comments drew a swift rebuke from Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who said they were “grave and disgusting and did not help with de-escalation.”

Israel visit cancelled

Erdoğan also said he was canceling plans to visit Israel because of its “inhumane” war on Gaza.

“We had a plan to go to Israel, but it was canceled, and we won’t go,” Erdoğan said.

Ankara’s relations with Israel froze over an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship carrying aid into Gaza killed 10 civilians in 2010.

Erdoğan met Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the United Nations General Assembly in New York last month, marking a improvement in relations that began with a decision last year to reappoint ambassadors.

The Turkish leader did not say when he had intended to visit Israel, where Ankara had been eyeing joining a natural gas pipeline project promoted by the United States.

“Of course, we had good intentions, but [Netanyahu] abused them,” Erdoğan said.

“If he had continued with good intentions, our relations might have been different, but now, unfortunately, this will not happen, either.”

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