As Hamas officials in Damascus pack up to leave for good in search of a new home, Turkish Foreign Ministry officials denied claims that Turkey had offered hundreds of millions of dollars to Hamas to make up for undelivered financial assistance, while the Turkish president left the door open to the possibility of a Hamas office opening up in his country.
“Turkey has been one of the strongest advocates of the Palestinian case,” President Abdullah Gül was quoted as saying by the Cihan news agency on Sunday. “Hamas is a political body that entered into elections in the Palestinian region of Gaza and came to power through the votes of the people,” Gül said, countering Western claims that Hamas draws its power from terrorist activity. “Our contact [with Hamas] has been constant, but we will have to wait and see what has come out of the frequent visits,” he added, without overlooking the possibility that Hamas might be more engaged with Turkey in the future.
As Hamas gets ready to leave Syria for good, its final decision on where to set up camp has begun to draw the attention of the international media, which recently speculated that Gazan Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh, on his first visit to Turkey in early January, was promised that Turkey would give Hamas around $300 million to make up for the void created by suspended financial aid from Iran, which stopped flowing in August, according to Reuters.
Officials from Turkey's Foreign Ministry approached by Today's Zaman on Sunday denied allegations that Turkey is offering millions of dollars to Hamas, saying that news featuring these allegations was made up and did not reflect the truth.
“There is no cash aid to Hamas, but Turkey is, of course, engaged in projects to deliver humanitarian aid to Gaza,” officials said and added, “A $40 million hospital project is one of them, but the construction material for the hospital is not allowed into Gaza.” Turkey frequently complains about an Israeli blockade of Gaza that Israel says is needed to block weapons from reaching Hamas, which Israel considers its archenemy, but which in reality chokes the Gazan economy and keeps Gazans underserved and underdeveloped.
Hamas has made it public that it is mulling over where it will call home next, and Turkey, along with Egypt, Qatar and Jordan, have been included on the list of possible hosts.
Hamas political bureau leader Khaled Mashaal's slow and quiet departure from Damascus on Friday hit the international media, giving rise to debates over whether the movement, considered a terrorist organization by Israel and the US, would seek to patch up ties with the Arab nations once more, or remain closely allied to the Shiite bloc of the region, led by Iran and Syria.
Mashaal's departure from Syria, a close ally of Iran, was also interpreted as a sign that Hamas might now be seeking a new home to conduct its business from, preferably some place that has good international contact and political stability -- qualities that make Turkey a very plausible candidate. Turkey remains on the edge with regard to its Hamas policy, but engages the movement with the aim of reconciling split Palestinian blocs for a unified and sovereign state of Palestine.
Hamas is believed to be leaving Syria on the grounds that the Syrian administration is destroying its roots, the Muslim Brotherhood, in the country, and expecting backup from Hamas in its fight against the protesters, putting Hamas in a very tight and uncomfortable spot.
It is not rare for Turkey to show support to Palestinian factions at dramatic levels, as the country late last year agreed to provide a home to 11 Palestinian exiles who were let go in a historic swap deal that saw one Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, sent home to Israel, at the cost of the release of more than a thousand Palestinians from Israeli jails. Mashaal is a frequent visitor to Turkey, remaining in constant touch with the country throughout its reconciliation process with Hamas' rival Fatah. Hamas recently agreed to join the umbrella Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), which fuelled hopes among Palestinians that a unified voice might be formed that could put common Palestinian goals for sovereignty into action.
“If Turkey and the rest of the Arab world extend a more supportive hand to Hamas, that will provide leverage to the movement to become a more recognized entity, decreasing the possibility of attacks against Israeli civilians,” Veysel Ayhan, an expert on the Middle East from the Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM) and an academic at Abant İzzet Baysal University, told Today's Zaman on Sunday.
Recalling that Hamas is a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood established in Palestine, Ayhan said Hamas' tendency to reform was natural, given developments in the region affected by the Arab Spring and the strengthening status of the Brotherhood. “In order to rip Hamas out of that system, currently reliant on Iran and Syria, it needs to come up with alternative sources of income, which could be provided by Arab nations, as well as by Turkey,” Ayhan added.