Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has said Israel would pay a “heavy price” if it attempts to assassinate members of the Palestinian militant group Hamas living in Turkey in the wake of reports about alleged Israeli plans to assassinate Hamas members living outside Palestine, the state-run Anadolu news agency reported.
Erdoğan’s remarks were made to to reporters during a flight back home from a visit to Qatar on Wednesday.
“Above all, it looks like the people writing such reports don’t know Turkey very well. They don’t know Turks. They don’t know us. If it [Israel] makes such a mistake, they should know that they will pay a heavy price,” Erdoğan warned.
Last week, The Wall Street Journal reported that Israel was planning to hunt down Hamas leaders around the world once it moves away from fighting the group in Gaza.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has ordered spy agencies to draw up plans to assassinate the group’s top leaders outside of Gaza, the paper reported, citing Israeli officials.
Ronen Bar, the head of Israel’s domestic intelligence agency Shin Bet, also said in a recording broadcast on Israeli state television KAN that Israel is determined to kill Hamas leaders around the world, including in Qatar, Turkey and Lebanon, even if it takes years.
Erdoğan said Israel should keep it mind that such an attempt will have heavy consequences, adding that Turkey is a country with an effective intelligence and security network to prevent such an attempt.
Erdoğan frequently meets with Hamas members in public in Turkey and sees them as “liberators” fighting for their land rather than terrorists.
On Monday the Reuters news agency also quoted an unnamed Turkish intelligence official as saying: “Necessary warnings were made to the interlocutors based on the news of Israeli officials’ statements, and it was expressed to Israel that [such an act] would have serious consequences.”
Turkey’s Anadolu news agency similarly quoted local sources warning Israel against “engaging in illegal activities” in the country.
Canada, the European Union, Israel, Japan, Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States label Hamas as a terrorist organization. New Zealand and Paraguay classify only its military wing as such. Brazil, China, Egypt, Iran, Norway, Qatar, Russia, Syria and Turkey do not consider Hamas a terrorist organization.
NATO member Turkey’s Western allies have time and again criticized what they see as the government of Erdoğan providing a safe haven for Hamas officials and members.
Israel began pounding the Palestinian enclave of Gaza after Hamas militants carried out an unprecedented surprise attack in Israel on October 7 that claimed 1,200 lives.
Israeli air and ground attacks in Gaza have claimed at least 16,000 lives since October 7 in addition to causing massive destruction in the enclave and leading to the displacement of at least 1.8 million people.