After hosting Hamas leader, Erdogan encourages Palestinians to unite against Israel

Turkey’s president sits down with Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul for first time since Israel-Hamas war began

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, shake hands during their meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, April 20, 2024. (Turkish Presidency via AP)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh, shake hands during their meeting in Istanbul, Turkey, April 20, 2024. (Turkish Presidency via AP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday urged Palestinians to unite for “victory” amid Israel’s war in Gaza, following hours-long talks with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul, his office said.

Erdogan, who has called Hamas a “liberation group” and Israel worse than the Nazis, has tried and failed to establish a foothold as a mediator in the Gaza conflict that has roiled the region.

Erdogan said Palestinian unity was “vital” following the talks at the Dolmabahce Palace on the banks of the Bosphorus strait, which Turkish media reports said lasted more than two and a half hours.

“The strongest response to Israel and the path to victory lie in unity and integrity,” Erdogan said, according to a Turkish presidency statement.

Hamas — designated a terrorist organization by the United States, the European Union and Israel — is a rival of the Fatah faction that rules the semi-autonomous Palestinian Authority in the West Bank.

Amid fears of a wider regional war, Erdogan said recent events between Iran and Israel should not allow Israel to “gain ground” and that “it is important to act in a way that keeps attention on Gaza.”

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, center, and ministers of his government, right, meet with Hamas delegation led by Ismail Haniyeh, in Istanbul, Turkey, April 20, 2024. (Turkish Presidency via AP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz condemned the meeting, writing on X: “Muslim Brotherhood alliance: rape, murder, desecration of corpses and the burning of babies. Erdogan, shame on you!”

Hamas was founded by members of the Muslim Brotherhood in 1987.

Close ties with Haniyeh

With Qatar saying it will reassess its role as a mediator between Hamas and Israel, Erdogan sent his Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan to Doha on Wednesday in a new sign that he wants a role.

“Even if only I, Tayyip Erdogan, remain, I will continue as long as God gives me my life, to defend the Palestinian struggle and to be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people,” the president said Wednesday when he announced Haniyeh’s visit.

Hamas has had an office in Turkey since 2011 when Turkey helped secure the agreement for the group to free Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit.

Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan, right, speaks during his meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, not pictured, at the State Department in Washington, March 8, 2024. (Susan Walsh/AP)

Erdogan has maintained links with Haniyeh, who has been a frequent visitor.

Fidan was a past head of Turkish intelligence and the country provided information and passports to Hamas officials, including Haniyeh, according to Sinan Ciddi, a Turkey specialist at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies in Washington.

This has never been confirmed by Turkish authorities, however.

Erdogan slams Israel

If Qatar withdraws from mediation efforts, Turkey could seek to increase its mediation profile based on its Hamas links. Israel is unlikely to accept Ankara in the role amid the crisis in ties between the countries.

Fidan on Saturday held talks with visiting Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, with both men emphasizing the need to deliver more humanitarian aid to devastated Gaza where the threat of famine looms.

Turkey is one of Gaza’s main humanitarian aid partners, sending 45,000 tons of supplies and medicine to the region.

A ship of Freedom Flotilla Coalition anchors at Tuzla seaport in Istanbul, Turkey, April 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

But Erdogan can only expect a “very limited” role because of his outspoken condemnation of Israel and its actions in Gaza, according to Ciddi.

Last year, the Turkish leader likened the tactics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to those of Nazi leader Adolf Hitler and called Israel a “terrorist state” because of its offensive against Hamas after the terror group’s October 7 attacks on Israel.

Ciddi said Erdogan would not be welcome in Israel and at most might be able to pass messages between Palestinian and Israel negotiators.

The unprecedented Hamas attacks that sparked the Gaza war resulted in the deaths of some 1,200 people in southern Israel, mostly civilians. Terrorists also took 253 hostages. It is believed that 129 hostages remain in Gaza — not all of them alive.

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