Hamas denies rumors of Turkish designs on Gaza

Arab critics say Erdogan’s ambitions in the Strip part of an attempt to restore the Ottoman Empire

Lee Gancman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)
Hamas official Moussa Abu Marzouk, September 18, 2014. (AP/Khalil Hamra)

A senior Hamas official rejected rumors that Turkey is seeking to subjugate the Gaza Strip to its rule, calling them “illusions envisioned by some people.”

Moussa Abu Marzouk took to Twitter Monday night to deny the rumors, saying: “You (Gazans) know better than anyone that Hamas won’t allow itself to be subjugated and that previous plans to do so have met with failure.”

Rumors have been swirling as of late following reports that Turkey is demanding unrestricted access to the Gaza Strip to deliver goods to the blockaded Palestinian territory as a condition for restoring ties with Israel.

Already tense relations between Jerusalem and Ankara soured after the Israeli Navy intercepted a flotilla that was seeking to breach Israel’s blockade on the Hamas-run Gaza Strip in May 2010. The Israeli raid ended with nine dead Turkish activists and dozens wounded, after Israeli naval commandos were attacked with clubs and poles as they boarded the vessel.

Footage taken from the 'Mavi Marmara' security cameras, showing activists preparing to attack IDF soldiers, May 2010. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson / FLASH90)
Footage taken from the ‘Mavi Marmara’ security cameras, showing activists preparing to attack IDF soldiers, May 2010. (Photo credit: IDF Spokesperson / FLASH90)

Turkey’s demand for unrestricted access has led commentators in the Arab world to question the motives of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his conservative AKP party in the Gaza Strip, speculating that it was an attempt to exercise more influence in the Hamas-held Palestinian enclave.

Critics of Erdogan describe him as a “neo-Ottoman,” running a foreign policy that seeks to regain, or at least assert, heavy influence in territories lost after the defeat and subsequent collapse of the Ottoman Empire following World War I.

In an October 13, 2014, speech given at Marmara University, Erdogan praised the Ottoman empire and the way in which it “was able to maintain this entire region in unity and harmony.” He continued to say that “once again Turkey is the hope of the whole region” and that “Allah willing, we will lift the borders in our hearts and minds” — a reference to the empire’s lost territories and the borders that now separate them from Turkey.

The list of former Ottoman territories whose affairs Turkey is currently involved in includes not only the Gaza Strip but also many Arab countries. Turkey’s involvement in the Syrian conflict has been particularly controversial, and it has repeatedly been accused of supporting Islamic radicals in the country’s civil war, including the Islamic State.

Many of those concerns were addressed in an article published Monday on Egyptian news site Yom7. The article, entitled “Does Turkey Want to be the Guardian of Gaza?” discusses the current negotiations between Israel and Turkey to restore ties and argues that they must be evaluated as a part of Erdogan’s bid to “restore the Ottoman Empire.” The article claimed that Turkey seeks a foothold in Gaza to influence events in the region.

On Tuesday, however, Hamas official Abu Marzouk defended Turkish involvement in the Hamas-controlled Strip, saying: “Hamas has not agreed to Turkish subjugation” and that in any case “Turkey is not interested in subjugating Gaza in any way.”

Times of Israel staff and agencies contributed to this report.

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