Hamas leaders meet with Erdoğan in Ankara

In this photo released by the Turkish Prime Minister's Press Office, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan (R) seen during a meeting with Khalid Mashaal, the Hamas chief in exile (C) and Gaza's Prime Minister Ismail Haniyeh in Ankara on June 18, 2013. (Photo: AP, Yasin Bülbül)

June 18, 2013, Tuesday/ 10:36:00

Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas political bureau chief, and Ismail Haniyeh, the prime minister of the Hamas government in Gaza, discussed the current issues related to Palestine, including the Middle East peace process, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara.

Erdoğan and the Hamas leaders met late on Tuesday. Sources from the Prime Ministry and the Foreign Ministry, speaking to Today's Zaman before the meeting, said that the agenda of the meeting would be the Middle East peace process and internal issues related to Palestine.

Meanwhile, sources from the Palestinian Embassy in Ankara told Today's Zaman that they were not informed by either Ankara or Hamas about the visit beforehand.

The visit by the Hamas leaders came amid Erdoğan's long-discussed plans to visit Gaza. The sources said that Erdoğan's planned visit would also be among the issues discussed at the meeting, also stating that the Hamas leaders' visit was upon their own request.

Erdoğan's announcement of his long-speculated visit this year came right after a US-brokered normalization process between Turkey and Israel in March. His visit was first declared to take place in April but was later postponed following Erdoğan's trip to Washington, D.C., in mid-May. The rescheduling was said to be at the US's request over concerns that the visit to Gaza could backtrack the rather positive process of normalization between Turkey and Israel.

However, a new date for the visit has not yet been specified, even though there is no official declaration of a cancellation of the visit.

Hamas, the Gaza-ruling Palestinian authority, is looking forward to the visit by Erdoğan, given the increase of prestige and recognition that such a visit would bring to the group. On the other hand, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is opposed to the visit on the grounds that it would deepen the existing divisions between Palestine's two rival groups, Hamas and Fatah. Abbas is the leader of the West Bank-ruling Fatah Party.

Hamas does not recognize the Israeli authority and is not participating in the talks related to the Middle East peace process that the West is conducting between the Palestinian national authority and Israel. Meanwhile, Western circles believe that Erdoğan's diplomacy with Hamas might have a positive effect on the realization of Palestinian national reconciliation.

Turkey trying to hold Hamas together, Arab diplomat says

An Ankara-based Arab diplomat who spoke to Today's Zaman recently said that Hamas needs to solidify its ranks after a growing rift in the group reportedly due to financial hardships. “Turkey is trying to hold Hamas together during this hard process,” said the diplomat.

Hamas is in a tough spot due to internal problems, with the rift growing more severe. One party within the group, which includes names from Hamas's army wing, is insisting that the group reposition itself under the axis of Iran and Syria while another party represented by Mashaal believes that Hamas can only overcome its financial problems by approaching Gulf countries like Qatar.

Saudi Arabia and Qatar are the leading supporters of the Syrian opposition in exile.

Haniyeh is known for his moderate position, seeking positive relations with both Iran and the Gulf countries and trying to mediate between the two groups within Hamas.

Hamas moved its political quarters from Damascus last year and expressed support for the Syrian armed opposition against its battle with the Bashar-al Assad regime.

Iran has been a staunch supporter of the Assad regime in Syria from the very beginning. The country had also enjoyed close relations with Hamas before the group announced its support for the Syrian opposition in the two-year long crisis.