With rapprochement negotiations between Israel and Turkey reportedly nearing completion, Ankara on Wednesday said Turkey would maintain its relationship with Islamist terror group Hamas, denying reports that severing ties with the de facto rulers of the Gaza Strip was ever part of the agreement.
Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Cavusoglu said during an Ankara press conference that communication between Ankara and Hamas was essential to reaching regional peace.
“Our contacts will continue in the context of the [importance] of the unity of Hamas and Fatah in Palestine and in the context of making contribution to the Middle East peace process,” he said, according to Turkey’s Hurriyet Daily News.
Since the terror group seized power of the Gaza Strip in 2007, even Israel, Cavusoglu said, has “acknowledge[d] that there can be no permanent peace or solution without Hamas.”
“That’s why there is no condition called ‘Hamas’ to normalize our relations with Israel,” Cavusoglu said.
After years of bitter animosity, Turkey and Israel are reportedly on the verge of normalizing ties that reached their nadir in 2010 after IDF commandos raided a Turkish vessel as it tried to run the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza.
Cavusoglu, who dismissed reports long circulating in Israeli media that Hamas maintained an office in Turkey, said Wednesday he did not believe there to be “a problem concerning Hamas,” in the normalization talks with Israel.
Israel’s Channel 1 on Sunday reported the last remaining gaps in the talks centered around Jerusalem’s demand that Hamas’s Istanbul headquarters be shut down. Citing a senior Israeli official, the report said a compromise was reached on the issue in recent weeks.
Cavusoglu also told reporters that reaching a deal during an upcoming meeting with Israel to normalize relations after years of bitter animosity depended on steps taken by the Jewish state.
“Whether a deal can be reached at the first upcoming meeting depends on the steps to be taken by Israel,” he said.
He did not give the date of the meeting, although press reports have said it would take place on Sunday.
Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal said Tuesday that Turkey’s insistence that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza kept the two countries from a reconciliation deal for months.
Speaking to reporters in Doha, Mashaal responded to reports in the Arab press that Turkey had forfeited its demand that Israeli lift the blockade.
“Turkey insists on the lifting of the siege on the Gaza Strip. Its officials have confirmed this. And according to the information we, the leadership of Hamas have, if [Turkey] had wanted an agreement without this condition, they would have reached one months ago,” Mashaal said.
Already tense relations between former allies Israel and Turkey were significantly downgraded after Israeli commandos staged a botched pre-dawn raid on a vessel in a six-ship flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to run the Israeli naval blockade on Gaza. The commandos boarded the Turkish-owned Mavi Marmara, which was the only vessel in the flotilla to ignore repeated calls to halt, and were attacked with clubs and metal bars as they hit the deck. Nine activists on board the Mavi Marmara were killed in the ensuing fighting, with a tenth later dying of his wounds, sparking a bitter diplomatic crisis. Several IDF soldiers were seriously wounded in the fighting aboard the ship.
Two of Turkey’s key conditions for normalization — an apology and compensation — were largely met in the years since, leaving its third demand, that Israel lift its blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, as the main obstacle. The blockade is designed to prevent Hamas, the Islamist terror group that still runs Gaza, from importing weaponry.
Cavusoglu seemed to indicate Wednesday that the third demand was still in force.
“Our conditions are not very complicated, they are plain conditions,” Cavusoglu said. “They need to be fulfilled the same as our apology demand.”
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.