A senior Israeli MP has urged the US to slap sanctions on Turkey in the wake of an investigation by The Daily Telegraph that showed him to be the target of an assassination attempt plotted by an Istanbul-based Hamas cell.
Nir Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem, promptly contacted David Friedman, the US ambassador to Israel, writes the publication, to urge the US administration to impose sanctions on Turkey.
"If we want to combat terror, which is a global problem, we must never allow any country to get away with providing infrastructure for terror organisations. If any country provides those services - openly or discreetly - they must be sanctioned,” Barakat is quoted as saying in an interview.
Barkat, mayor of Jerusalem for ten years and now a member of parliament for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, said he had been contacted by Israel’s security services about an assassination attempt.
Zacharia Najib, a senior Hamas operative based in Istanbul, reportedly suggested Barkat as an assassination target for a young Hamas recruit who had arrived in Turkey, telling him he would be remembered if he killed a prominent Israeli, writes the publication.
Touted as a potential future prime minister after Benjamin Netanyahu, the MP added he had reinforced his personal bodyguard team until the authorities were confident the plot had been thwarted.
Previously, London-based newspaper The Telegraph claimed in a report on 17 December that Hamas, designated as a terror group by Israel, US, UK and the European Union, was using Turkey’s biggest city Istanbul as a base to plot attacks against the Jewish state.
The report, which cited transcripts from Israeli police interrogations, claimed that the Turkish government and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have offered the organisation a “safe harbour” in Istanbul, while turning a blind eye to its activities.
It was claimed that an earlier foiled plot to assassinate the mayor of Jerusalem was potentially masterminded in Istanbul.
In response to the Telegraph report, Israel’s foreign ministry has also called on Turkey to shut down the Hamas cell based in Istanbul.
“Hamas terrorists are directing attacks against Israel from Turkey, while the Turkish leadership is turning a blind eye… Israel calls on Turkey to immediately cut its support for Hamas operations out of its territory and to close Hamas' headquarters in Istanbul,” said Yuval Rotem, director general of the foreign ministry.
The report by publication also claimed that a dozen Hamas operatives have moved to Istanbul from the Hamas-administrated Gaza Strip over the last year, severely straining diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel.
According to the media, a Turkish diplomatic source reportedly denied the accusations that Hamas was using Istanbul to plot attacks against Israel, while insisting the group was not “a terrorist organisation”, but a “legitimate Palestinian political party”.
Hamas also reportedly denied the allegations about planning attacks.
Hamas, a Palestinian Sunni militant organisation in control of the Gaza Strip, has been locked in a protracted on-and-off conflict with Israel, which continues to refuse to recognise Palestine as an independent political and diplomatic entity.