Erdogan warns Israel of ‘very heavy price’ if Hamas members harmed on Turkish soil

Turkish president rejects Israeli proposal for what he terms a ‘disrespectful’ buffer zone within Gaza after war, says Netanyahu endangering region for personal political interests

Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives an opening speech during the 39th session of the Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC), in Istanbul, Turkey, December 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Turkey President Recep Tayyip Erdogan gives an opening speech during the 39th session of the Committee for Economic and Commercial Cooperation of the Organization of the Islamic Cooperation (COMCEC), in Istanbul, Turkey, December 4, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan warned Israel on Wednesday that Israel would “pay a very heavy price” if it attempted to eliminate Hamas members in Turkey.

Erdogan’s warning came several days after recordings were revealed of the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency saying Jerusalem is determined to kill leaders of the Palestinian terror group “in every location” around the world, including “in Lebanon, in Turkey, in Qatar.”

Following the publication of the recordings, Ankara warned Israel on Monday that there would be serious consequences if Hamas members were assassinated on Turkish soil, a threat that Erdogan underscored on Wednesday.

“They do not know the Turks. They don’t know us… If they commit such a mistake, they should know that they will pay a very heavy price for it,” he said ahead of his departure from Qatar, where he had been conducting high-level talks.

“If they dare to take such a step against Turkey and the Turks, they will be condemned to pay the price, never to be able to stand up again,” he added. “Those who attempt such a thing should remember that the consequences can be extremely serious. There is no one in the world who does not know the progress Turkey has made in both the field of intelligence and security.”

Erdogan also rejected potential plans by Israel to establish a buffer zone inside Gaza to prevent a repeat of the October 7 attacks in southern Israel, during which thousands of Hamas-led terrorists burst through the border, killing more than 1,200 people and abducting some 240 hostages.

Calling the notion of a buffer zone “disrespectful,” Erdogan told reporters that “Gaza belongs to the Palestinians. We do not recognize any decision-maker that ignores their decisions.”

People listen to speeches as they gather during a pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel protest in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, November 12, 2023. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)

In an address at the Gulf Cooperation Council summit in Doha on Tuesday, the Turkish president said Israel should not be allowed to “get away” with alleged war crimes during the IDF’s war against Hamas in Gaza.

“We brought the war crimes committed in Gaza to the court’s agenda and we will be following up on this,” he said. “Netanyahu will not be able to evade paying the penalty for his actions. Sooner or later, he will be tried and will pay the price for the war crimes he committed.”

He later accused Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is entangled in legal troubles, of putting the entire region in danger for his alleged political survival.

“The Netanyahu administration is endangering the security and future of our entire region in order to extend its political life,” Erdogan said in televised comments.

“The loss of life of 17,000 Palestinians, mostly children and women, is a crime against humanity and a war crime. Israel should not get away with these crimes,” he added, citing an even higher toll than Hamas’s claim of over 16,200 dead.

Hamas does not differentiate between civilian and combatant deaths but claims 70% of the dead are women and children. Its numbers cannot be confirmed and likely include those killed by rocket misfires from within the Strip.

Erdogan had been in the midst of an effort to warm ties with Israel in the months before the war, but has since sharply backtracked and returned to the same vitriolic attacks that characterized many of the Islamist leader’s previous years in power.

Earlier this week, Erdogan reiterated his belief that Hamas is not a terror group. He has called for Turkey to be involved in any solution for Gaza after the war.

He also stressed that Hamas must be included in the rebuilding of Gaza, despite the backing Israel has received from the West to eliminate the terror group from the coastal enclave, which it has ruled since 2007.

“The exclusion and destruction of Hamas is not an option,” he said.

Erdogan has been in close contact with the Hamas leadership since the start of the war in October, and Turkey has maintained deep ties with the terror group over the years, allowing them to operate from an office in Istanbul for over a decade.

While Turkey insisted that it only hosted the group’s political wing, in 2020, Israel provided Turkish intelligence with evidence that members of Hamas’s military wing operate in the office, under the supervision of Beirut-based Saleh al-Arouri.

From that office, Hamas terrorists have allegedly planned terror attacks against Israel and devised ways to transfer funds to the terror group’s activists in the West Bank.

Early in November, Turkey recalled its ambassador to Israel for consultations over the war in Gaza, although said that Turkey was not breaking off diplomatic ties entirely.

The two countries only restored full diplomatic ties in August 2022 after years of deteriorating relations.

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