London-based newspaper The Telegraph claimed in a Tuesday report that Hamas, designated as a terror group by Israel, US, UK and the European Union, is using Istanbul as a base to plot attacks against the Jewish state, citing transcripts from Israeli police interrogations.
The report claimed that the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in particular, have offered the organisation a “safe harbour” in Istanbul and turned a blind eye to its activities, as Hamas is allegedly using Turkey’s largest city to direct operations in Jerusalem and the West Bank. It has also been claimed that an earlier foiled plot to assassinate the mayor of Jerusalem was potentially masterminded in Istanbul.
“Israel is extremely concerned that Turkey is allowing Hamas terrorists to operate from its territory, in planning and engaging in terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians”, the Israeli foreign minister said, according to The Telegraph.
A Turkish diplomatic source reportedly denied the accusations that Hamas was using Istanbul to plot attacks against Israel, while insisting that the group was not “a terrorist organisation” but a “legitimate Palestinian political party”, the media claimed. Hamas also reportedly denied the allegations about planning attacks.
Hamas Leader Meets With Erdogan in Turkey
Last week, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met with President Erdogan during his visit to Turkey, his first foreign trip in three years. According to a report by Turkish state media Anadolu Agency, the meeting was closed to the press. Haniyeh also reportedly met with Hamas’s deputy leader and a founding member of the organisation’s military wing Izz aDin al-Qassam Brigade, Saleh Arouri, who is currently wanted by the US government, and several other senior Hamas officials during his visit to Turkey.
The report by The Telegraph claimed that a dozen Hamas operatives have moved to Istanbul from the Hamas-administrated Gaza Strip over the last year, which severely strained diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel, as Ankara, as well as the US and the European Union, regards the group as being “terrorists”.
Turkey was the first Muslim country to recognise Israel in 1949, but since then President Erdogan has repeatedly thrown his support behind the Palestinian community and its rights in Jerusalem, while defining Hamas as a “political party”.
“Turkey will continue to stand by the oppressed people of Palestine as it has always done so until today”, Erdogan said to the UN General Assembly in September.© AP Photo / Ariel Schalit
The tensions between Israel and the Palestinian group have recently escalated since Israeli’s killing of a senior commander of the group Islamic Jihad Baha Abu al-Atta in the Gaza Strip. This was followed by multiple exchanges of fire between the sides throughout November.