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Turkey supports Palestinian cause in 'strongest way', Erdogan says in meeting with Abbas

Erdogan, who called Al-Aqsa Mosque attacks 'a red line', vows to defend status quo in East Jerusalem during a meeting with Palestinian counterpart Mahmoud Abbas
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas shake hands at a press conference after their meeting in Ankara, on 25 July 2023 (AFP)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said on Tuesday that his government would not tolerate any attempt to change the historical status quo of Al-Aqsa Mosque in East Jerusalem during a meeting with his Palestinian counterpart, Mahmoud Abbas, in Ankara.

"As Turkiye, we continue to support the Palestinian cause in the strongest way possible. We are deeply concerned about the violence of illegal settlers," Erdogan said during a joint press conference.

"We cannot tolerate any acts attempting to change the historical status quo of holy places, particularly the Al-Aqsa Mosque. The unity and reconciliation of the Palestinians are key elements in this process," he added.

In April, Israeli troops stormed Jerusalem's Al-Aqsa Mosque. The move prompted condemnation from the Arab and Muslim world. Erdogan said Israel had crossed a "red line".

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was also set to visit Turkey this week, but the trip was postponed after Netanyahu's health deteriorated and he had a pacemaker installed.

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In August 2022, Israel and Turkey restored full diplomatic relations by trading ambassadors. In 2018, Turkey downgraded relations with Israel after Israeli forces killed 60 Palestinians during the Great March of Return.

The decision to restore relations in 2022 came after then-Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid's visit to Ankara and his meetings with Mevlut Cavusoglu, who was foreign minister at the time, and his conversation with Erdogan.

In November 2022, during bilateral talks, Turkey refused to comply with Israeli demands requesting the deportation of Hamas leaders living in the country.

Cavusoglu said Ankara does not view Hamas, the Palestinian resistance movement that rules the Gaza Strip, as a terror group and refused to expel them.

Hamas meeting

Abbas’s visit to Turkey comes at a time when the Palestinian Authority's control over the occupied West Bank has come into question. The 87-year-old president was the object of scorn from residents of a Jenin refugee camp early this month when Abbas went to survey damage from an Israeli offensive on the city.

At least 200 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire this year, including 34 children - a rate of nearly one fatality per day, making 2023 one of the bloodiest in the occupied West Bank in years.

A total of 164 people died in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, while the remaining 36 were killed in the Gaza Strip.

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Meanwhile, Palestinians have killed 25 Israelis in the same period, including six children. 

Palestinian security forces, set up under the PA as part of the Oslo Accords, police the local population of the occupied West Bank but do not stand in the way of attacks by Israeli forces (with which they share coordination) or Israeli settler attacks.

Their objective to keep calm across the occupied West Bank has increasingly slipped out of grasp as a new generation of armed resistance fighters spring up in cities like Jenin.

According to Haaretz, Abbas was set to meet with senior Hamas leaders in Turkey, including political chief, Ismail Haniyeh. The two met face-to-face in Algeria in July 2022 for the first time in five years. In April, Saudi Arabia hosted Hamas and Palestinian Authority (PA) delegations.

Abbas’s visit comes as Erdogan looks to mend fences with regional powers, including Israel, after recently wrapping up a high-profile Gulf visit. In the UAE, Erdogan and his Emirati counterpart, President Mohammed bin Zayed, announced a slew of agreements and memorandums of understanding totalling $50.7bn.

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