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War on Gaza: Hamas chief meets Turkey's Erdogan in Istanbul

Visit comes as the Turkish leader renews criticism of Israel and support of the Palestinian group
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, in Istanbul, Turkey, 20 April 2024. (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office via Reuters)
Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (right) with Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinian group Hamas, in Istanbul, Turkey, 20 April 2024 (Murat Cetinmuhurdar/Turkish Presidential Press Office via Reuters)

Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Saturday met with Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh, who was on his first official visit to Istanbul since the Israeli war on Gaza started in October. 

During the hours-long meeting, Erdogan stressed the need to keep the focus on Gaza amid tensions between Israel and Iran, according to Anadolu Agency.

The Turkish president also urged Palestinians to "act with unity" in the face of the Israeli assault in Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 people, mostly children and women. 

"The strongest response to Israel and the path to victory lie in unity and integrity," Erdogan said, according to a Turkish presidency statement.

The meeting came days after Erdogan compared Hamas to the Turkish revolutionary forces that helped to expel foreign armies from Anatolia in the 1920s.

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The comments to parliament on Wednesday were 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. 

Erdogan likens Hamas to Turkish independence fighters
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"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. 

In response, Hamas expressed in a statement its "deep appreciation and gratitude" for Erdogan's "support for the movement and its resistance project".

"The courageous statements and honourable positions of President Erdogan embody the historical and authentic position of the brotherly Turkish people," the Palestinian group said. 

Israeli Foreign Minister Israel Katz took to social media platform X, formerly Twitter, on Saturday to rebuke Erdogan for receiving Haniyeh in Istanbul. 

'The Muslim Brotherhood: rape, murder, desecration of corpses and burning babies," Katz wrote. "Erdogan, shame on you!"

Public pressure 

Erdogan has been a vocal critic of Israel since the war on Gaza began, accusing it of "crimes against humanity" and "genocide". 

However, his government has come under public pressure to take more action against Israel, including cutting trade ties. 

The frustration with the perceived inaction led in part to the defeat of Erdogan's AK Party in mayoral elections last month, according to analysts.

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.

Ahead of the Istanbul visit, Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan met Haniyeh last week to discuss efforts to reach a ceasefire and deliver humanitarian aid. 

Hamas said it conveyed to Fidan its views on the ceasefire negotiations, which have stalled due to Israel's refusal to agree to permanently end the war. 

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