Turkey on Thursday denied accusations that the Hamas terror group is using its territory to plan attacks against Israel.
The denial came following a report that said Turkey was turning a blind eye as Hamas commanders were allegedly ordering attacks against Israel from Istanbul.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry rejected the report on its Twitter account.
“We firmly reject the accusation that the Turkish territory is being used for any act against Israel or any other country,” the ministry said.
The ministry added, however, that Turkey and other countries don’t consider Hamas a terrorist group but rather “a political reality which has won the elections in Gaza back in 2006.”
“Various countries, including Turkey, have contacts with Hamas at different levels,” the ministry said.
— Turkish MFA (@MFATurkey) December 19, 2019
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who touts himself as a champion of the Palestinian cause, met with Hamas terror chief Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday.
According to British daily The Telegraph, citing Israeli police sources and offering a wealth of details, recent interrogations of terror suspects by Israeli officials revealed that Hamas operations in Jerusalem and the West Bank are being actively directed from Istanbul, while Turkish authorities look the other way.
One such operation cited by the paper in a report published Tuesday was a plot to assassinate senior Israeli officials, including then-mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat and then-national police commissioner Roni Alsheich, by 23-year-old East Jerusalem resident Adham Muselmani, who was recruited to the cause in a meeting in Istanbul.
According to the paper, Muselmani, who was arrested by the Shin Bet while trying to purchase a pistol, had met with a handler in Istanbul, who suggested he try to kill Barkat, Alsheich, or then-MK and Temple Mount activist Yehudah Glick.
Barkat, a Likud lawmaker, on Wednesday called on US Ambassador David Friedman for Washington to apply strict sanctions on Turkey following the report.
Barkat said in a statement that he had spoken with Friedman and requested that the US lead international action against Turkey as it has done against Iran.
Glick told Army Radio in an interview that Hamas and Erdogan have “put a finger on the center point of the world, on Jerusalem, which for them symbolizes control of the Middle East.”
Glick was shot and seriously injured in a 2014 assassination attempt by Mutaz Hijazi, a member of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. Hijazi was killed in a shootout with police days after the attack on Glick.
When Erdogan hosted Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday, he told him, “We will keep on supporting our brothers in Palestine.” Hamas in turn praised Turkey for its “positions vis-a-vis the Palestinian people and its just cause” in a report on its website.
Israel has long complained to Ankara about its ties to Hamas, but to no avail, according to the report. Israeli officials told The Telegraph that Turkey has now reneged on its 2015 commitment, negotiated by the US, not to allow Hamas officials to plot terror attacks against the Jewish state from its territory.
The paper noted that contacts between Turkish and Hamas officials are ongoing and intimate, with Turkish intelligence agency MIT working closely with the main conduit for the relationship, Hamas official Jihad Ya’amor.
Hamas called the Israeli complaints “baseless allegations that aim to negatively affect Hamas’s relationship with Turkey.” Its spokesman Hazem Qasem said “Hamas’s resistance activities are conducted only in the land of occupied Palestine.”
Turkey has long maintained warm ties with Hamas, which have grown more overt as Ankara’s ties with Israel have chilled over the last decade.
In 2011, 11 Hamas prisoners who were freed from jails in Israel arrived in Istanbul as part of a prisoner exchange deal between the Palestinians and Israel.
Hamas and Erdogan’s AKP party are linked politically. Both have close ideological ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood movement.
Despite tensions with Washington over Turkey’s purchase of Russian arms, Erdogan maintains close ties with US President Donald Trump, whose administration on Tuesday declined to back the Senate’s recognition of the Armenian genocide, in what was seen as a bid to placate Ankara.
However, in October, Trump threatened to “obliterate” the Turkish economy if Ankara did anything “off limits” in Syria following a US troop withdrawal. Turkey nonetheless invaded Kurdish held areas in northeast Syria in a military campaign against Kurdish militias it considers terror groups. Trump later imposed some financial sanctions which were lifted by the end of the month when a ceasefire agreement was reached.
On Sunday Erdogan threatened to close two strategic military bases used by the United States in Turkey, after Washington warned Ankara of sanctions over its decision to buy the Russian S-400 missile defense system, despite warnings from Washington.
Once close allies, ties between Israel and Turkey have been tense since 2010, when 10 Turkish citizens were killed by Israeli forces as a Turkish-led flotilla tried to break Israel’s blockade on the Gaza Strip.
The two countries agreed to a US-brokered reconciliation agreement in 2016, but ties broke down again last year over a US decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Both countries withdrew their ambassadors.