Turkey denies allowing Hamas to operate in its territory
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Turkey denies allowing Hamas to operate in its territory

Israel demands NATO and US take steps against Ankara, but Turkish officials hit back at Jerusalem's 'lies and deceit'

Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, the Turkey-based head of Hamas operations in the West Bank (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)
Hamas operative Saleh al-Arouri, the Turkey-based head of Hamas operations in the West Bank (photo credit: YouTube screenshot)

Turkish officials have denied repeated Israeli allegations that Hamas is operating a command center from within its borders.

According to a report on the Ynet Hebrew news site, Israel has appealed to the NATO coalition — of which Turkey is a member – and to the US leadership to take steps against Ankara for enabling Hamas terrorists to operate and plan terror attacks against Israelis from its territory.

“It is unthinkable that a NATO member should host a terror organization that trains and prepares terror attacks in its territory,” sources in Jerusalem said.

Turkish officials vehemently denied the allegations, with diplomats calling the Israeli claims “lies and deceit,” Ynet reported.

“Turkey holds dialog with Hamas but would not under any circumstances allow a terror group to operate from its territory,” an official said. He ascribed the allegations to Israeli parties “who will do anything to torpedo efforts to settle the disputes between the countries and turn over a new leaf.”

Israel has alleged on several recent occasions that Hamas cells operating in the West Bank and planning major terror attacks were doing so under the guidance and leadership of Hamas’s Saleh al-Arouri, who was deported from the West Bank to Turkey in 2010, while Ankara turns a blind eye to his actions.

On Thursday the Shin Bet security service said members of a Hamas terror ring in the West Bank, run from the organization’s headquarters in Turkey, sought to carry out an array of major attacks, including on Jerusalem’s main soccer stadium and its light rail line.

The Shin Bet announcement confirmed a Times of Israel report last week that said Israel had arrested dozens of members of a Hamas terror network operating throughout the West Bank.

The Shin Bet said the ring was preparing to kidnap Israelis in Israel and abroad, enter Israeli villages, detonate car bombs, perpetrate roadside attacks, and execute a major terror attack in Teddy Stadium, where the Israeli soccer team Beitar Jerusalem plays its home games.

Suspects from a Hamas ring apprehended in the West Bank and announced by the Shin Bet on Thursday, November 27, 2014. Clockwise from top left: Manef Agbariya, Rajai Omri, Mahmoud Malham, Abdullah Zeituni, Masab Dawib, Adnan Samara, Zuheib Ta'avat, Mahmoud Shorbagi (photo credit: Shin Bet)
Suspects from a Hamas ring apprehended in the West Bank and announced by the Shin Bet on Thursday, November 27, 2014. Clockwise from top left: Manef Agbariya, Rajai Omri, Mahmoud Malham, Abdullah Zeituni, Masab Dawib, Adnan Samara, Zuheib Ta’avat, Mahmoud Shorbagi (photo credit: Shin Bet)

The network was similar in its operational characteristics to one uncovered in August during the war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip, the Palestinian officials said last week, adding that according to information received from Israel, this terror ring was even larger. Its operatives had already attempted several attacks against Israel, they added, but they had all failed.

Arouri, they said, built up and funded the network, and has effectively established a Hamas command post in Turkey which is leading terror efforts in the West Bank. Arouri is reportedly aided by dozens of operatives, some of whom were deported by Israel in the wake of the Gilad Shalit prisoner deal in 2011.

The officials accused Turkey as well as Qatar — the current home of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal — of enabling Hamas to operate freely within their territories to carry out attacks against Israel and undermine the Palestinian Authority.

In October Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Hamas had two command centers: one in the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Islamist group since 2007, and one in Turkey.

“Turkey is playing a cynical game,” Ya’alon said during a visit to Washington.

In August, Arouri was seen in a recording admitting that Hamas was behind the June kidnapping and murder of Israeli teenagers Gil-ad Sha’ar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

He is heard on the video saying that he “blessed the heroic action” which was “carried out by the al-Qassam Brigades” — the armed wing of Hamas. This action, “the kidnapping to Hebron of the three settlers,” was an “operation spoken of far and wide,” Arouri added.

Turkey’s ruling AKP party has had close ties with Hamas since its rise in 2001. Ankara, led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has pledged some $200 million for the reconstruction of Gaza following the summer war.

Israel’s ties with Turkey became strained after Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009, but nosedived in May 2010 when the Mavi Marmara ferry was boarded by Israeli commandos as it attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing melee, after the Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars and wooden bats, troops opened fire and nine Turkish activists were killed; 10 Israeli soldiers were injured.

Turkish officials have often unleashed scathing criticism of Israel.

In August during Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, Erdogan accused Israel of being “more barbaric than Hitler.” Israel launched the campaign on July 8 to stop rocket fire from Gaza and destroy tunnels dug under the border by Hamas for attack purposes.

Mitch Ginsburg and AFP contributed to this report.

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