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Ya’alon: Hamas has two command centers — in Gaza and Turkey

On 5-day visit to US to discuss Iran, regional conflicts, defense minister says Ankara playing ‘cynical game’

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Tech Israel editor and reporter.

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said Tuesday that Hamas has two command centers, one in the Gaza Strip, which has been ruled by the Islamist group since 2007, and one in Turkey.

“Turkey is playing a cynical game,” Ya’alon said in Washington in a meeting with his US counterpart Chuck Hagel, according to Army Radio, a meeting which focused on Iran, the conflicts in Iraq and Syria and the US-Israel defense partnership. Ya’alon was on a five-day visit to the US.

The defense minister said that Hamas’s representative in Turkey, Saleh al-Arouri, commands terror operations against Israelis and oversaw an attempted coup this summer in the West Bank against the Palestinian Authority’s Mahmoud Abbas.

In August, Arouri was seen in a recording admitting that Hamas was behind the June kidnapping and murder of Israeli teenagers Gil-ad Sha’ar, Naftali Fraenkel and Eyal Yifrach.

He is heard on the video saying that he “blessed the heroic action” which was “carried out by the al-Qassam Brigades” — the armed wing of Hamas. This action, “the kidnapping to Hebron of the three settlers,” was an “operation spoken of far and wide,” al-Arouri added.

Hamas had officially denied involvement in the plot but has long called for the kidnapping of Israelis as bargaining chips for members in Israeli jails.

The abduction sparked a massive search operation and crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank, with hundreds of members arrested, and eventually led to the 50-day Operation Protective Edge fought between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups in July and August.

Also in August, Israel revealed that the Shin Bet security service thwarted a Hamas coup attempt in the West Bank aimed at overthrowing Abbas and starting a new round of violence.

The Shin Bet said the plot was orchestrated by Arouri, who enjoys the support of local officials there, and included terror cells set up in dozens of Palestinian West Bank towns and villages — including in and around Jenin, Nablus, eastern Jerusalem, Ramallah, and Hebron.

Turkey’s ruling AKP party has had close ties with Hamas since its rise in 2001. Ankara, led by Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has pledged some $200 million for the reconstruction of Gaza following the summer war.

Israel’s ties with Turkey have been strained since Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in Gaza in 2008-2009. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan lashed out at then president Shimon Peres at the Davos Economic Forum, telling him: “When it comes to killing, you know very well how to kill. I know well how you hit and kill children on beaches.”

Relations between the two nosedived in May 2010  when the Mavi Marmara ferry was boarded by Israeli commandos as it attempted to break the naval blockade of the Gaza Strip. In the ensuing melee, after the Israeli soldiers were attacked with iron bars and wooden bats, troops opened fire and nine Turkish activists were killed; 10 Israeli soldiers were injured.

Turkish-Israeli ties have yet to recover and they continue to be shaky, with Turkish officials often unleashing scathing criticism of Israel.

In August, Erdogan accused Israel of being “more barbaric than Hitler” during the military campaign, that it launched on July 8, aimed at stopping rocket fire from Gaza at Israeli cities and destroying tunnels, dug under the border by Hamas, that were used by terrorists to infiltrate into Israel and carry out deadly attacks.

AFP contributed to this report.

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