Erdoğan holds surprise talks with Hamas leader

Erdoğan holds surprise talks with Hamas leader

Prime Minister Erdoğan (L) shakes hands with Hamas’ Mashaal during a meeting in Ankara in March 2012. (Photo: EPA)

July 25, 2012, Wednesday/ 16:30:00/ TODAY'S ZAMAN

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had surprise talks with Hamas' exiled leader Khaled Mashaal at an iftar dinner at his residence on Tuesday.

The talks, which were also attended by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and National Intelligence Organization (MİT) Undersecretary Hakan Fidan, came as Palestinians in Syria find themselves in a difficult place amid escalating violence in the country.

Hamas turned against its long-time ally Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and publicly announced that it supports the uprising against his rule in February. Mashaal, previously based in Damascus, also left the Syrian capital after the uprising began.

Some 500,000 Palestinians, mostly refugees, are believed to be living in Syria. Palestinian authorities are concerned about the safety of Palestinians and are reportedly in touch with both the Syrian administration and the opposition to prevent the Palestinians in Syria from being dragged into the conflict.

Palestinian groups in Syria are known to be divided, with some parties, such as the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP), supporting the Assad regime while others join the opposition. Citing Palestinian Authority officials, The Jerusalem Post recently reported that several Palestinians have been kidnapped and killed by unidentified gunmen in different parts of Syria. In the worst incident of violence involving the Palestinians, 16 members of the Palestine Liberation Army, which is backed by the Syrian authorities, were killed after gunmen stopped their bus and kidnapped them. The bodies of the Palestinians, whose throats had been slashed, were later discovered in an open field in the suburbs of Damascus. Palestinian sources believe the perpetrators belonged to the Free Syrian Army and other opposition groups.

But with dozens of Palestinians joining the ranks of the opposition Free Syrian Army, the Palestinian authorities are concerned that the Palestinians could be targeted by the Syrian army. “Our main concern is that the Syrian army will now start attacking Palestinians under the pretext that they are fighting the terrorists,” The Jerusalem Post quoted a Palestinian Authority official as saying. “We are deeply concerned that Palestinians will pay a heavy price in this civil war.”

Ties between Turkey and Hamas, which rules Gaza, have been developing since Turkey's alliance with Israel collapsed over a deadly raid by Israeli troops on a Turkish aid ship bound for Gaza in 2010.

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