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Erdoğan rejects US pressure to cut Hamas ties

Turkish President and the Leader of the Justice and Development (AK) Party Recep Tayyip Erdogan speaks during his party's group meeting at the Turkish Grand National Assembly in Ankara on November 29, 2023. (Photo by Adem ALTAN / AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Saturday pushed back against mounting US pressure to cut Ankara’s historic ties with Hamas in the wake of the militants’ unprecedented attacks on Israel, Agence France-Presse reported.

The US Treasury’s top terrorism financing official conveyed Washington’s “profound” alarm about Ankara’s past relations with Hamas during a visit to Turkey this week.

Under Secretary Brian Nelson said Washington has not detected any money passing through Turkey to Hamas since the Gaza war broke out eight weeks ago.

But he argued that Ankara had helped Hamas access funding in the past and should now use local laws to clamp down on potential future transfers.

Erdoğan said Saturday that Washington was well aware that Turkey does not view Hamas as a terrorist organization.

“First of all, Hamas is a reality of Palestine, it is a political party there and it entered the elections as a political party and won,” he said in remarks released by his office.

“We form our foreign policy in Ankara and design it only according to Turkey’s interests and the expectations of our people,” Erdoğan said.

“I am sure that our interlocutors appreciate Turkey’s consistent and balanced foreign policy steps in such humanitarian crises and conflicts.”

Israel on Friday resumed punishing airstrikes after the sides failed to extend a seven-day truce that had seen 80 Israeli hostages released in exchange for 240 Palestinian prisoners.

Hamas fighters killed about 1,200 people — mostly civilians — and took around 240 Israelis and foreigners hostage, Israeli officials say, after breaking through the militarized border into southern Israel on October 7.

The Hamas authorities who run Gaza say Israel’s retaliatory air and ground campaign has killed more than 15,000 people — also mostly civilians.

‘Butcher of Gaza’

Erdoğan has been one of the Muslim world’s most vocal critics of Israel’s military tactics in Gaza.

He recalled Ankara’s envoy to Tel Aviv and demanded that Israel’s commanders and political leaders be put on trial for “war crimes” at the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

Hamas political leaders have used İstanbul as one of their foreign bases during Erdoğan’s two-decade rule.

Turkish media have reported that they relocated to Qatar after Ankara voiced displeasure with social media images purporting to show Hamas officials celebrating the October 7 attacks.

But they have since visited Istanbul on at least one reported occasion for undisclosed talks.

Erdoğan last officially met with Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul in July.

He followed that up with talks with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in September on the sidelines of a United Nations gathering in New York.

The meeting was aimed at paving the way for what would have been a highly significant visit to Turkey by the Israeli premier.

The Gaza war has torn those budding ties to shreds.

Erdoğan now refers to Netanyahu as “the butcher of Gaza” and talks up the prospects of the Israeli leader being tried in The Hague.

“Our expectation is that these perpetrators of genocide, these butchers of Gaza who were caught red-handed — especially Netanyahu — will receive just punishment,” Erdoğan said on Saturday.

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