US blasts Turkey’s Erdogan for hosting Hamas leaders
He met two of the group’s senior figures, both of whom the US has designated as terrorists
The US State Department voiced its strong objection on Tuesday over Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s decision to host a delegation from the Palestinian militant group Hamas last week.
State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus denounced the meeting held in Ankara on Saturday and said it only served to harm Turkey’s relations with Washington and other western powers.
“The United States strongly objects to Turkish President Erdogan hosting two Hamas leaders in Istanbul on August 22,” she said.
The delegation was led by Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and included its deputy chief, Saleh Al Arouri; the group’s external head, Maher Salah; its head of Arab and Islamic affairs, Ezzat Al Rihiq; and its representative in Turkey, Jihad Yaghmor, a statement released by the group said.
“Hamas is designated as a terrorist organisation by the US and EU and both officials hosted by President Erdogan are Specially Designated Global Terrorists,” the State Department said.
Ms Ortagus said the US would continue to raise its concerns at the highest levels about Ankara’s relationship with Hamas.
It is the second time President Erdogan has hosted Hamas leadership this year; a visit also took place on February 1.
Hakan Fidan, the head of Turkey’s National Intelligence Organisation, also attended the meeting on Saturday.
Mr Haniyeh and Mr Arouri are the two officials who have a $5 million bounty each on their heads issued by the US Rewards for Justice Programme.
It accuses Mr Arouri of involvement in terrorist attacks, hijackings and kidnappings.
The State Department said the meeting undercuts efforts to counter terrorist attacks from Gaza.
“President Erdogan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organisation only serves to isolate Turkey from the international community, harms the interests of the Palestinian people, and undercuts global efforts to prevent terrorist attacks launched from Gaza,” it said.
The State Department statement represents a new development in the US approach towards Ankara on the issue of Hamas and the group's presence in Turkey. Hamas leaders have visited Qatar and Egypt in the past year but their meetings have not been met with such rebuke.
Aaron Stein, the director of research at the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said he was not surprised by either the statement or the meeting itself. “This Turkish government does not view Hamas as a terrorist group, but as the party that won a majority in the 2006 election and was subsequently prevented from governing,” Mr Stein told The National.
He also said it was an Islamist populist tendency that was driving Turkish actions.
“There is Islamist populism underpinning Turkish rhetoric and propaganda. Those theatrics and propaganda are on display here, coming as they did on the heels of the UAE agreement [with Israel].”
The US statement is validated, the expert argued, given Mr Erdogan’s tactic to hold this photo-op in light of regional developments.
US President Donald Trump, however, continued to praise Mr Erdogan, telling former US hostage in Turkey Pastor Andrew Brunson on Monday about the good relationship the two have.
“To me, President Erdogan was very good,” Mr Trump said.
Updated: August 26, 2020 09:52 AM