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War on Gaza: Erdogan likens Hamas to Turkish independence fighters

The Turkish leader has been a vocal critic of Israel’s onslaught on Gaza, which has killed more than 33,000 people
Erdogan (right) and Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, the founding father of the republic (AFP/Ozan Kose)

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has compared the Palestinian armed movement Hamas to the Turkish revolutionary forces, which helped expel foreign armies from Anatolia in the 1920s.

The comments to parliament on Wednesday are the strongest public endorsement of Hamas by the Turkish leader since the war on Gaza began in October.

"I say it very clearly and openly: Hamas is exactly the same as the Kuva-i Milliye [National Forces] in Turkey during the war of liberation," he said during the address. 

"We are aware that there is a price to pay for saying this. We know that it is difficult to proclaim rights and truths in such a period. 

"But let the whole world know, understand, and comprehend: we will not yield," Erdogan added.

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Erdogan is expected to meet Hamas political leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday, according to sources who spoke to Middle East Eye. 

The National Forces played an important role during Turkey’s war of independence between 1918-1920, using military force to install a nationalist government in Ankara and expelling Greek and western forces from Western Anatolia and Eastern Thrace, the European part of Turkey.

Parts of the Ottoman Empire, the predecessor state of the Turkish Republic, were occupied by western allies after the Ottoman defeat in World War One.

The Turkish military successes during the independence struggle, which was led by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, paved the way for the abolition of the Ottoman Empire and the establishment of a republic.

Opponents reject comparison

Erdogan's comments have not been welcomed by his opponents, who rejected the comparison between the Turkish nationalists and Hamas.

Ilhan Uzgel, a deputy chairman in the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), dismissed Erdogan’s comments, saying that there was no similarity between Hamas and Turkish revolutionaries. 

"Do not use the War of Independence as a tool for your ideological preferences," he said. "You paid no price for the Palestinian cause. Your greatest courage was receiving the Medal of Courage from the Jewish lobby."

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In his speech, Erdogan insisted that he will be "a voice of the oppressed Palestinian people" as long as he is alive. 

The Turkish leader has been a vocal critic of Israel's invasion of Gaza, which started after a Hamas-led assault on southern Israel that left at least 1,141 people dead.

Erdogan has criticised Israel's subsequent "crimes against humanity" and "genocide", while allowing trade to continue between the two countries. 

Erdogan supporters punished the president during the 31 March local elections over the maintenance of trade ties by switching their allegiances to the Islamist New Welfare Party (YRP) or simply boycotting the vote, resulting in his AK Party's defeat in mayoral contests in large cities. 

After the results, Ankara halted the export of 54 products to Israel in early April, including cement, steel and construction materials, citing its responsibility under international law to prevent human rights abuses.

Erdogan expressed anger on Wednesday that his government’s past actions against Israel have not been recognised by the wider public, while also dismissing rumours that Ankara has been supplying jet fuel to the Israelis.

"We will courageously defend Palestine's struggle for independence under all circumstances," he said. 

"My brothers, remember this; some of our steps may not be visible. We may not be able to explain some of what we do. However, those who come out and question our sensitivity towards Palestine will sooner or later be embarrassed, disgraced, and see what injustice they have done before history."

Turkey was an early critic of Israel’s campaign in Gaza. Erdogan was calling the assault a genocide as early as 20 October, becoming one of the first world leaders to use the term.

The country is also one of the biggest humanitarian donors to Gaza, alongside several Gulf Arab countries, and has flown in dozens of Palestinians from Gaza for medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.

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