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Davutoğlu Says Turkey key to convincing Hamas on Gaza cease-fire

20 January 2009, Tuesday /YONCA POYRAZ DOĞAN
The prime minister's top foreign policy advisor said yesterday that Turkey was a key player in ensuring a cease-fire on both sides to end the recent bloodshed in Gaza because it was able to convince Hamas to agree to stop fighting.

Ahmet Davutoğlu, chief foreign policy advisor for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, said in a press briefing, "If a bilateral cease-fire was obtained yesterday [Jan. 18], this was possible because of Turkey," in reference to the fact that Hamas announced that it had initiated its own cease-fire just before a summit of world leaders at Sharm al-Sheikh in Egypt. "After Israel announced at 11 p.m. on [Saturday] evening that it had agreed to a cease-fire, we talked to all sides until the early hours of the morning and Hamas called a cease-fire," he said.

Davutoğlu added that if that had not happened the Egyptian summit would have been "just a meeting with no results."

The Israeli cease-fire went into effect at 2 a.m. on Sunday, with Israel saying that a troop withdrawal was contingent on Hamas stopping its attacks completely. Within a few hours five rockets were fired at the Israeli town of Sderot, causing no casualties, an Israeli military spokesman had said. Hamas had insisted that it would not accept the presence of Israeli forces in the Gaza Strip and would "continue to resist them."

Davutoğlu emphasized that Turkey has long been trying to make Hamas a political actor because it "foresaw" the approaching crisis. And once the crisis emerged Turkey again worked toward that goal. "There have been two sides to the conflict. How could we ignore Hamas and still find a solution?" he asked, adding that Turkey's understanding of the problem and its ability to talk with all sides made it possible to establish a cease-fire.

Davutoğlu also added that Turkey did not want to show that it was playing a central role during the worst days of the conflict because it was managing a crisis situation: "We were not looking to gain prestige through the conflict. The most important thing was to stop the bloodshed. It was not right to give detailed information about Turkey's efforts in that regard."

Also at the briefing, a Foreign Ministry official said Turkey's role had been appreciated by the international community. As an example, the official mentioned that EU foreign policy chief Javier Solana thanked Turkish officials on Sunday in Brussels, saying that Turkey's role in solving the conflicts in the Caucasus and Gaza showed that "Turkey has moved closer to the European Union."

Both officials stressed that Turkey was the only country able to talk to all sides in the Middle East and that this role is going to be played again by Turkey because all sides seek Turkey's consultation.

‘Gaza is our problem, our neighborhood’

Asked by reporters why Turkey could not prevent the conflict even though it had "foreseen" what was going to happen, Davutoğlu said the leaders who did not act on Turkey's "warnings" at the time now recognize it. "Even if they do not listen to us, we will say it again and again -- 100 times or 1,000 times -- because whatever happens there affects our streets in Ankara and İstanbul. It creates economic instability, too. Maybe they did not listen to us at the time, but now they say, 'Turkey warned us.'"

He also stressed the complicated nature of the problem: "There can be no solution to these long-standing problems without Egypt, which is Gaza's only other neighbor. There can be no solution without Syria, either."

Davutoğlu was referring to the fact that Egypt saw Hamas as a threat to its own stability and, therefore, had no open communication channels with it. He said Egypt was glad that Turkey was able to talk to Hamas. "Turkey is not trying to steal a role from Egypt and Egypt has not been uncomfortable with Turkey playing a constructive role," he added.

When French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in Cairo to seek an end to the conflict, Turkey was called upon to attend the meetings there to provide consultations.

Davutoğlu further explained that some press comments saying that Turkey was changing its foreign policy direction, moving closer to the Middle East and abandoning the West, were "untrue." "A country like Turkey has to employ an integrative foreign policy. … During the years of the Cold War, Turkey emphasized priorities in its foreign policy, true. It does not have to now. The European Union is our priority, yes. But that does not mean that we can ignore the Middle East, the Caucasus and the Balkans. Turkey has to be active in many directions at the same time."

‘Hamas, Fatah reconciliation a must’

At the briefing, Davutoğlu spent considerable time explaining the multidimensional aspect of the conflict, saying that facilitating an environment of reconciliation for the key Palestinian forces is a key factor to sustaining the cease-fire and eventually continuing the peace process in the Middle East.

This was in reference to the split between Hamas and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah, which Davutoğlu said must reconcile in order for there to be a lasting solution to the conflict in the Gaza Strip.

"If the Palestinian people can reconcile, then mechanisms for a cease-fire can be discussed," Davutoğlu said, adding that Egypt has called on the Palestinian sides to hold a meeting in Cairo for that purpose. He also said Abbas had sought Turkish President Abdullah Gül's help in that regard.

"Our view is that Israeli forces should pull out from Gaza, because when the Israeli troops are there, the cease-fire can be broken at anytime because of provocations, which are quite likely. At the same time, a humanitarian aid corridor should be opened to help heal the Palestinian people and the embargo on the Palestinians should be ended," he said.

Davutoğlu emphasized that the cease-fire was a "temporary process" and that more needs to be done for it to be sustainable. He added that Turkey's military presence in Gaza has not been discussed in any of their meetings so far, but that a possible observatory mission and its details were yet to be discussed.

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