Turkey's Erdoğan planning to visit Gaza

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greets Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal during his party congress in Sept. (Photo: AA)

November 02, 2012, Friday/ 09:30:00

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has revived a plan to make a postponed visit to Gaza and demanded that Israel lift its blockade of the narrow strip between Israel and Egypt as a precondition to restore ties between Ankara and Tel Aviv.

Erdoğan told journalists on a plane en route to Ankara from Berlin that he has plans to visit Gaza soon and that authorities are having talks with officials in Gaza to realize this trip.

He welcomed the Qatari emir's recent trip to Gaza and said he was planning to call and congratulate him but the holy Muslim holiday of Eid Al-Adha interrupted this.  

Qatari Emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and his wife Sheikha Mozah crossed from Egypt to Gaza late last month at the head of a large delegation, and were greeted by Hamas Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh and an honor guard.

Erdoğan said he even once offered a suggestion to the President of the Palestinian Authority in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Mahmoud Abbas, Hamas's arch-rival, that they visit Gaza together. “He was warm to the suggestion,” Erdoğan said.  

For years, Hamas relied heavily on Iran and Syria. The need became even stronger after the militant group seized Gaza in 2007, triggering an Israeli-Egyptian border blockade. Hamas became an international pariah because of its refusal to abandon its militant ideology. Syria hosted the Hamas leadership in exile, while Iran provided it with cash and weapons.

However, the uprising against Assad has made it impossible to maintain that alliance. The revolt was led by fellow Sunnis, some with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, the regional organization that also spawned Hamas. Early this year, Hamas leaders left their Damascus headquarters. The organization's chief in exile, Khaled Mashaal, found a new home in Qatar.

Hamas leaders in Gaza, the group's stronghold, have been reluctant to sever ties with Iran unless a new benefactor steps up. Hamas needs millions of dollars in aid each year to continue running Gaza, an impoverished territory of 1.6 million.

Israel must lift Gaza blockade

Erdoğan also reiterated his demand that Israel lift its blockade of Gaza. He said German Chancellor Angela Merkel asked him to take steps to normalize ties with Israel and “we discussed Israeli-Palestinian issue, too.”

Israeli-Turkish relations nosedived after Israeli naval commandos stormed the Mavi Marmara, a Turkish ship carrying humanitarian aid in eastern Mediterranean to breach the Gaza blockade in 2010. The raid of the ship left eight Turks and one Turkish American dead. In the wake of the incident Turkey has demanded an apology, compensation for the families of victims and the lifting of the Gaza blockade. Israel only expressed regret and says its soldiers acted in self-defense.

Israel has many times reached out to Turkey to normalize ties but Turkey says all three demands must be realized to restore relations.

“It is impossible that our relations will be mended unless these demands are realized,” Erdoğan said. “We said this to Merkel.”

To normalize ties, Erdoğan added, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had dispatched “interesting” diplomats for talks, not elaborating on the characterization.

“We had talks with them. I also told them these three demands. In addition, I told them that all three demands must be realized. I clearly told them that Turkey is not open to options that include offering an apology and compensation but not lifting the Gaza blockade,” Erdoğan said.

The Turkish prime minister said Turkey is not indifferent to the fact that “humanity” is living in an “open-air prison” in Palestine.