Turkey-Israel rift sparked by Hamas visit

A visit by the exiled political leader of Hamas to the Turkish capital Ankara has triggered a new diplomatic rift between US allies Israel and Turkey, two years after the Turkish premier accused Israel of engaging in state terrorism against Palestinians.

Turkey yesterday rejected Israeli criticism of the visit of Khaled Mashaal and said an Israeli spokesman’s comparison of the Palestinian group to Kurdish guerrillas in Turkey was an “unfortunate statement”.

Mashaal met Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul on Thursday, prompting Israel’s government spokesman Raanan Gissin to condemn the visit in an interview with Turkey’s private NTV television. Mashaal flew by commercial plane from Ankara to Istanbul later yesterday, from where he is expected to return to Syria.

“How would you feel if we got together with Abdullah Ocalan?” Gissin asked NTV, referring to the imprisoned leader of the outlawed Kurdish guerrilla group fighting for autonomy in Turkey’s southeast.

Turkey’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement yesterday that the Israeli spokesman had made “an unfortunate statement.”

“We think the comparison in this statement is totally baseless and wrong,” the ministry statement said. “We relayed our discomfort and dissatisfaction with this statement to Israel yesterday.” The ministry also suggested that the Israeli remarks were prompted by Israeli ”domestic political concerns.”

Ocalan’s rebels have been fighting for autonomy in the largely Kurdish southeast since 1984 in a war which has claimed more than 37,000 lives.

Both Ocalan’s Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, and Hamas are branded as terrorist organisations by the US State Department.

Turkey, which has close ties with both Israel and the Palestinians, has been urging Hamas – which won a landslide victory in legislative elections last month - to reject violence as it assembles a new Palestinian government.

Meanwhile, Mashaal has called on the world to stop seeing the newly elected Palestinian representatives through the eyes of Israel.

“We believe that most of the leaders in Europe, in the West, have an image about Hamas, a wrong image about Hamas, because this image doesn’t reflect us. It reflects how some people, especially Israel, see Hamas,” Mashaal said yesterday.

“We want the world, and especially the countries in the West, to understand us, to understand Hamas well, to understand the will of the Palestinian people, the national goals of Hamas and the Palestinian people.”

Hamas’s parliamentary victory last month prompted US and EU threats to cut off massive aid to the Palestinians unless the group – responsible for scores of suicide attacks and designated a terrorist organisation by many Western nations - recognises Israel and renounces violence.

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