The head of the Hamas terror group was among the first foreign officials to congratulate Turkish leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his apparent election victory Sunday.
Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh phoned Erdogan Sunday evening, according to a statement posted on Hamas’s official website.
Haniyeh congratulated Erdogan and said he would dispatch a delegation to Turkey in the coming days, and indicated a willingness to deepen ties with Ankara, the statement said.
Several world leaders supportive of Erdogan, including Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Qatari Emir Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, also called to congratulate him on his “victory,” the presidency said.
Erdogan has been among Hamas’s strongest supporters on the world stage, and Turkey under him has been accused of harboring leaders of the terror group and allowing it to launder money for militant activities.
Israel had demanded that Turkey downgrade its relationship with Hamas during detente talks ahead of a resumption of ties in 2016.
The two countries cut ties in 2010 after Israeli forces raided a Turkish boat that was attempting to break the naval blockade Israel set up around the Gaza Strip to prevent Hamas, which has called for Israel’s destruction, from importing weapons. In the ensuing melee, 10 Turkish activists were killed and a number of Israeli soldiers were injured.
In February, Turkey denied a Shin Bet accusation that it had allowed Hamas operatives to launder money through the country.
Erdogan has been among Israel’s most strident critics, likening its policies to that of Nazi Germany and sparring with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on more than one occasion.
Erdogan, whose Islamist Justice and Development Party (AKP) party first swept to power in 2002, was poised Sunday night to clinch another term as president, declaring victory for himself based on unofficial results.
Erdogan was on course to defeat his nearest rival Muharrem Ince with more than half the vote without needing a second round, initial results showed.
“The unofficial results of the elections have become clear. According to these… I have been entrusted by the nation with the task and duties of the presidency,” Erdogan said in a victory address at his Istanbul residence.
“Turkey has given a lesson in democracy to the entire world,” he added, pointing to an 88 percent turnout.
Erdogan won 52.5 percent in the presidential poll while Ince, of the secular Republican People’s Party (CHP), was on 31 percent, state-run Anadolu news agency said, based on a 98 percent vote count.
The figures could yet change as final ballot boxes are opened. But if confirmed, the figures would show Erdogan polling on a similar rating or even stronger than his 2014 election victory where won his first mandate after over a decade as prime minister.
Celebrations erupted outside Erdogan’s residence in Istanbul and AKP headquarters in Ankara, with crowds of flag-waving supporters, AFP correspondents said.
Erdogan also warned anyone against casting doubt on the results: “I hope nobody will harm our country’s democracy by casting a shadow on the election system and its results in order to disguise their failure.”
Erdogan has overseen historic change in Turkey since his Islamic-rooted ruling party first came to power in 2002 after years of secular domination. But critics accuse the Turkish strongman, 64, of trampling on civil liberties and autocratic behavior.