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Erdogan meets Hamas chief Meshaal amid reports of Israel deal

Meshaal has reportedly requested Turkey demand a number of concessions for Gaza before agreeing to normalise relations with Israel
File photo shows Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meeting with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on 19 December 2015 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday met the leader of the Palestinian political faction Hamas for unscheduled talks following reports Ankara was close to agreeing a deal on normalising ties with Israel.

Erdogan received the Doha-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, whose group governs the Gaza Strip, at the Ottoman-era Yildiz Palace in Istanbul, the official Anadolu Agency reported, quoting presidential sources.

Turkish press reports have said Israel and Turkey could hold final talks on normalising ties on Sunday but this had yet to be confirmed.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday there was a "large possibility" the negotiations would take place by the end of this month.

Anadolu said Erdogan and Meshaal discussed how to ease the humanitarian problems of the Palestinians and how to bridge the differences between Hamas and the other main Palestinian faction Fatah.

The Anadolu report made no reference to the Turkish talks with Israel.

According to the Israeli news site Ynet, Meshaal has requested Turkey make a number of demands before normalising relations with Israel. These include long-held Hamas calls to lift the siege on Gaza, build a seaport and loosen fishing restrictions, along with allowing for the reconstruction of homes destroyed and damaged during Israel's 2014 Gaza offensive.

Previously tight relations between Israel and key NATO member Turkey were significantly downgraded after Israeli commandos killed 10 activists when they staged a pre-dawn raid on a six-ship humanitarian flotilla in May 2010 as it tried to break the blockade on Gaza.

Two of Turkey's key conditions for normalisation - an apology and compensation - were largely met, with Israel agreeing to express regret for the raid. But its third demand, that Israel end its nearly decade-long blockade, remains as the main obstacle.

According to the Hurriyet daily, a compromise has been reached with Turkey set to send aid for Palestinians via the Israeli port of Ashdod rather than sending it directly to Gaza.

Hamas gained power in Gaza in 2007, after winning legislative elections. Since then, Israel has imposed a crippling siege on the Strip, severely limiting imports and exports and freedom of movement for the Palestinian territory's residents. The siege has been Hamas's main grievence against Israel in recent years, leading to three bloody wars in Gaza in 2008-9, 2011 and 2014.

Hamas and Fatah came to an agreement for a unity government in 2014, but the deal was never implemented as both parties shirked responsibility for paying Gaza government employees.

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