Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
Turkiye’s President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Ismail Haniyeh, leader of the Palestinian Islamist group Hamas, in Istanbul on Apr. 20, 2024. (Reuters)
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Updated 20 April 2024
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Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies

Erdogan in mediation talks with Hamas leader amid domestic controversies
  • The meeting ‘is part of president’s attempts to reposition himself as credible defender of Palestinian cause,’ analyst tells Arab News
  • Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels

ANKARA: The meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in Istanbul on Saturday has sparked debate over Turkiye’s attempts to play a greater mediating role for the Palestinian cause amid domestic controversies over the ruling government, which has lost support among its conservative electoral base since local elections last month.
Haniyeh’s visit is his first meeting with Erdogan in Turkiye since the start of the Israeli-Hamas conflict in Gaza.
For Wolfango Piccoli, co-president of Teneo Intelligence in London, the meeting is part of Erdogan’s attempts to reposition himself as a credible defender of the Palestinian cause after his recent electoral defeat.
“Hosting the Hamas leader is likely to reinforce the impression in the West that Turkiye is at best a transactional partner, not an ally,” he said.
Turkiye does not consider Hamas a terrorist organization, unlike Washington and Brussels. The country has also strongly criticized Israel’s military operation in Gaza, which Erdogan previously described as genocide. Hamas also established a presence in Istanbul in 2011, although not on par with its political office in Doha.
Ankara has also been a major humanitarian donor to Gaza, alongside several Gulf states, and has actively helped several Palestinians from Gaza receive medical treatment in Turkish hospitals.
“I will continue to defend the Palestinian struggle and be the voice of the oppressed Palestinian people as long as Allah gives me life, even if I am left alone,” Erdogan said in his speech to parliament last Wednesday.
The Turkish president has always been on friendly terms with Haniyeh.
In a recent phone call to the Hamas leader, Erdogan offered his condolences after three of his sons were killed in an Israeli air strike in Gaza.
“Israel will definitely be held accountable before the law for the crimes against humanity it has committed,” Erdogan told Haniyeh, according to an AFP report.
For Betul Dogan Akkas, assistant professor of international relations at the department of international relations at Ankara University, given the current fragile situation in Gaza, there is a significant need for the mediation efforts by Qatar and Turkiye.
“With Haniyeh and other officials based in Qatar, there is now a more effective political bureau compared to the past. The current military balance in Gaza is very critical; they are cornered in Rafah. On the other hand, Hamas needs to build a more strategic power,” she told Arab News.
Akkas thinks that if this Saturday’s visit of Haniyeh contributes to further collaboration between Turkiye and Hamas to address that strategic power deficiency, it would be meaningful.
“Haniyeh could take on a more effective role due to Gaza’s current situation because they need a way out,” she added.
Domestically, however, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party, known as the AKP, has come under heavy criticism for its flourishing and uninterrupted trade with Israel, even during its military offensive in Gaza.
The AKP’s Islamist rival, the New Welfare Party or YRP, played this trade card during the local elections on March 31, highlighting Erdogan’s failure to halt economic ties with Israel despite his harsh rhetoric against the Jewish state.
The YRP accused the government of applying double standards by strongly criticizing Israel while continuing trade relations. After the elections, the YRP won some local administrations previously held by the AKP.
Turkiye’s exports to Israel exceeded $5.4 billion in 2023, accounting for 2.1 percent of its total exports, according to official data.
Following nationwide criticism, the Turkish Trade Ministry recently imposed restrictions on some 54 categories of exports to Israel, including cement, steel, machinery, construction materials, chemical compounds, and several metal products, and these restrictions are expected to remain in place until Israel declares a ceasefire in Gaza.
On April 16, Erdogan compared Hamas to Turkish independence fighters who resisted foreign occupiers during the liberation of the country and the establishment of the modern Turkish Republic in 1923.
His comments were seen as one of the most blatant endorsements by the Turkish leader since the start of the war in October.
According to Piccoli, while such words may play well with domestic audiences, they are unlikely to be welcomed in Western capitals, including Washington.
Erdogan will make his first official visit to the US since the election of President Joe Biden in 2020 on 9 May. The Palestinian cause is expected to feature in the talks.
Piccoli believes that Haniyeh’s visit is unlikely to lead to any concrete Turkish action against Israel.
“The economic restrictions and Haniyeh’s visit reflect Turkiye’s desire to ensure that the Gaza conflict is not overshadowed by tensions between Israel and Iran, including the Iranian attacks of April 13-14 and the Israeli strikes on Isfahan in the early hours of April 19,” he said.
Earlier this week, Erdogan blamed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel, Piccoli added.
On the other hand, how Turkiye will be able to mediate between Palestinian and Israeli negotiators is raising concerns, especially after Erdogan’s harsh criticism of Israel’s military actions in Gaza.
The fate of the hostages held by Hamas since Oct. 7 will also be a source of concern for such mediation efforts.
Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan visited Qatar April 16-17 and met with Haniyeh and Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al -Thani.
Turkiye was to host intense diplomatic negotiations on Saturday as Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry was also expected to travel to the country to discuss the situation in Gaza with Fidan.
For Piccoli, while the recent negotiations may go some way to assuaging domestic public anger, the Erdogan government’s outreach to Hamas is likely to reinforce the impression in the US and the EU that Turkiye is no longer aligned with the West and is now — at best — a potential partner rather than an ally.
For the moment, Erdogan has been cautious about commenting on his meeting with Haniyeh.
“We will keep the agenda between us and Mr.Haniyeh,” he said when questioned by journalists on Friday.


Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier
Updated 9 sec ago
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Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier

Fierce fighting in northern Gaza as aid starts to roll off US-built pier
  • Residents said Israeli bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in Jabalia in the path of the advance
  • In the south, Palestinian militants put up a fierce resistance, attacking tanks massing around Rafah
  • Hamas says US floating aid pier is no substitute for end of Israeli siege of Gaza

CAIRO: Israeli forces battled Hamas fighters in the narrow alleyways of Jabalia in northern Gaza on Friday in some of the fiercest engagements since they returned to the area a week ago, while in the south militants attacked tanks massing around Rafah.

Residents said Israeli armor had thrust as far as the market at the heart of Jabalia, the largest of Gaza’s eight historic refugee camps, and that bulldozers were demolishing homes and shops in the path of the advance.
“Tanks and planes are wiping out residential districts and markets, shops, restaurants, everything. It is all happening before the one-eyed world,” Ayman Rajab, a resident of western Jabalia, said via a chat app.
Israel had said its forces cleared Jabalia months earlier in the Gaza war, triggered by the deadly Hamas-led attacks on southern Israel on Oct. 7, but said last week it was returning to prevent Islamist militants re-grouping there.
In southern Gaza bordering Egypt, thick smoke rose over Rafah, where an escalating Israeli assault has sent hundreds of thousands of people fleeing from what was one of the few remaining places of refuge.
“People are terrified and they’re trying to get away,” Jens Laerke, UN humanitarian office spokesperson, said in Geneva, adding that most were following orders to move north toward the coast but that there were no safe routes or destinations.
As the fighting raged, the US military said trucks started moving aid ashore from a temporary pier, the first to reach the besieged enclave by sea in weeks.
The World Food Programme, which expects food, water, shelter and medical supplies to arrive through the floating dock, said the aid was transported to its warehouses in Deir Al Balah in central Gaza and told partners it was ready for distribution.

Ships are seen near a temporary floating pier built to receive humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip in Gaza Beach on May 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

The United Nations earlier reiterated that truck convoys by land — disrupted this month by the assault on Rafah — were still the most efficient way of getting aid in.
“To stave off the horrors of famine, we must use the fastest and most obvious route to reach the people of Gaza – and for that, we need access by land now,” deputy UN spokesperson Farhan Haq said.
US aid was arriving in Cyprus for delivery to Gaza via the new pier, Washington said.
Hamas demanded an end to Israel’s siege and accused Washington of complicity with an Israeli policy of “starvation and blockade.”
The White House said US national security adviser Jake Sullivan would visit Israel on Sunday and stress the need for a targeted offensive against Hamas militants rather than a full-scale assault on Rafah.
A group of US medical workers left the Gaza Strip after getting stuck at the hospital where they were providing care, the White House said.

Ships are seen near a temporary floating pier built to receive humanitarian aid in the Gaza Strip in Gaza Beach on May 18, 2024. (Israel Defense Forces/Handout via REUTERS)

Humanitarian fears
The Israel Defense Forces said troops killed more than 60 militants in Jabalia in recent days and located a weapons warehouse in a “divisional-level offensive.”
A divisional operation would typically involve several brigades of thousands of troops each, making it one of the biggest of the war.
“The 7th Brigade’s fire control center directed dozens of airstrikes, eliminated terrorists and destroyed terrorist infrastructure,” the IDF said.
At least 35,303 Palestinians have now been killed, according to figures from the enclave’s health ministry, while aid agencies have warned repeatedly of widespread hunger and dire shortages of fuel and medical supplies.
Israel says it must capture Rafah to destroy Hamas and ensure the country’s safety. In the Hamas attack on Oct. 7, 1,200 people died in Israel and 253 were taken hostage, according to Israeli tallies. About 128 hostages are still being held in Gaza.
Israel said on Friday that its forces retrieved the bodies of three people killed at the Nova music festival in Israel on Oct. 7 and taken into Gaza.
In response, Hamas said negotiations were the only way for Israel to retrieve hostages alive: “The enemy will not get its prisoners except as lifeless corpses or through an honorable exchange deal for our people and our resistance.”
Talks on a ceasefire have been at an impasse.

’Tragic war’
Israeli tanks and warplanes bombarded parts of Rafah on Friday, while the armed wings of Hamas and Islamic Jihad said they fired anti-tank missiles and mortars at forces massing to the east, southeast and inside the Rafah border crossing with Egypt.
UNRWA, the main UN aid agency for Palestinians, said more than 630,000 people had fled Rafah since the offensive began on May 6.
“They’re moving to areas where there is no water — we’ve got to truck it in — and people aren’t getting enough food,” Sam Rose, director of planning at UNRWA, told Reuters on Friday by telephone from Rafah, where he said it was eerily quiet.
At the International Court of Justice, or World Court, in The Hague, where South Africa has accused Israel of violating the Genocide Convention, Israeli Justice Ministry official Gilad Noam defended the operation.
The South African legal team, which set out its case for fresh emergency measures the previous day, framed the Israeli military operation as part of a genocidal plan aimed at bringing about the destruction of the Palestinian people.


WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days
Updated 18 May 2024
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WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

WHO says no medical supplies received in Gaza for 10 days

GENEVA: The World Health Organization said Friday that it has received no medical supplies in the Gaza Strip for 10 days as Israel pursues a new offensive against Hamas.
Israel’s closure of the Rafah crossing into Gaza has caused “a difficult situation,” WHO spokesman Tarik Jasarevic said. “The last medical supplies that we got in Gaza was before May 6.”
Israeli troops entered the city of Rafah on May 7 to extend their offensive against Hamas over the militant group’s attacks seven months earlier. They closed the Rafah crossing into Egypt that is crucial for humanitarian supplies.
With UN agencies warning of a growing risk of famine in Gaza, the Kerem Shalom and Erez crossings from Israel are also virtually shut down.
Jasarevic said the biggest concern was over fuel needed to keep clinics and hospitals running. Gaza’s health facilities need up to 1.8 million liters of fuel a month to keep operating.
The spokesman said only 159,000 liters had entered Rafah since the border closure. “This is clearly not sufficient,” he added, highlighting how only 13 out of 36 hospitals across the Palestinian territory were now “partially” operating.
“Hospitals still functioning are running out of fuel, and that puts so many lives at danger,” said Jasarevic. “Current military operations in Rafah are putting countless lives at risk.”
The Hamas attack on October 7 resulted in the death of more than 1,170 people in Israel, most of them civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official Israeli figures. Out of 252 people taken hostage, 128 are still held inside Gaza, but the army says 38 have died.
More than 35,300 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the Palestinian territory since the war broke out, according to data provided by the health ministry of Hamas-run Gaza.


Hezbollah uses new weapons in Israel attacks

Hezbollah uses new weapons in Israel attacks
Updated 18 May 2024
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Hezbollah uses new weapons in Israel attacks

Hezbollah uses new weapons in Israel attacks
  • The Israeli army said three soldiers were wounded in an attack on Thursday
  • Hezbollah has a large arsenal of weapons, that it has expanded significantly in recent years

BEIRUT: Lebanon’s powerful armed group Hezbollah announced on Thursday it had used a drone capable of firing rockets at a military position in one of its latest attacks in northern Israel.
Israel and Hezbollah have been involved in near-daily exchanges of fire since the war between Israel and Hamas broke out on October 7.
Hezbollah announced it had used an “armed attack drone” equipped with two S-5 rockets on a military position in Metula in northern Israel.
The Iran-backed group published a video showing the drone heading toward the position, where tanks were stationed, with the footage showing the moment the two rockets were released followed by the drone exploding.
It was the first time they had announced the use of this type of weapon since the cross-border exchanges with Israel erupted in October.
The Israeli army said three soldiers were wounded in Thursday’s attack.
Hezbollah-affiliated media said that the drone’s warhead consisted of between 25 and 30 kilogrammes (55 and 66 pounds) of high explosive.
Military analyst Khalil Helou told AFP that the use of drones offers Hezbollah the ability to launch the attack from within Israeli territory, as they can fly at low altitudes, evading detection by radar.
Hezbollah also announced on Wednesday that it had launched a strike using “attack drones” on a base west of the northern Israeli town of Tiberias.
That attack was the group’s deepest into Israeli territory since fighting flared, analysts said.
In recent weeks, the Lebanese militant group has announced attacks that it has described as “complex,” using attack drones and missiles to hit military positions, as well as troops and vehicles.
It has also used guided and heavy missiles, such as Iran’s Burkan and Almas missiles, as well as the Jihad Mughniyeh missile, named after a Hezbollah leader killed by Israeli fire in Syria in 2015.
Helou, a retired general, said that depite its new weaponry, Hezbollah still relied primarily on Kornet anti-tank missiles with a range of just five to eight kilometers.
They also use the Konkurs anti-tank missile, which can penetrate Israel’s Iron Dome defense system.
Hezbollah has a large arsenal of weapons, that it has expanded significantly in recent years.
The group has said repeatedly that it has advanced weapons capable of striking deep inside Israeli territory.
Analysts have described the skirmishes between Israel and Hamas as a war of “attrition,” in which each side is testing the other, as well as their own tactics.
Hezbollah has expanded the range of its attacks in response to strikes targeting its munitions and infrastructure, or its military commanders.
One such Israeli strike on Wednesday targeted the village of Brital in Lebanon’s eastern Bekaa Valley, with the Israeli army later announcing it had hit a “terror target related to Hezbollah’s precision missile project.”
Helou said Hezbollah’s targeting of the base near Tiberias and its use of the rocket-equipped drone “can be interpreted as a response to the attack on Brital, but it remains a shy response compared to the group’s capabilities.”
He suggested that the Israeli strike likely hit a depot for Iranian missiles that had not yet been used by Hezbollah.
“Hezbollah does not wish to expand the circle of the conflict,” Helou said.
“What is happening is a war of attrition through which it is trying to distract the Israeli army” from Gaza and seeking to prevent it from “launching a wide-ranging attack on Lebanon.”


US officials held indirect talks with Iran on avoiding regional escalation: report

US officials held indirect talks with Iran on avoiding regional escalation: report
Updated 18 May 2024
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US officials held indirect talks with Iran on avoiding regional escalation: report

US officials held indirect talks with Iran on avoiding regional escalation: report

Two top Biden administration officials held indirect talks with Iranian counterparts this week in an effort to avoid escalating regional attacks, Axios reported on Friday.
The conversations marked the first round of discussions between the US and Iran since January, according to Axios.


One Palestinian killed, eight wounded in Israeli strike on West Bank refugee camp

One Palestinian killed, eight wounded in Israeli strike on West Bank refugee camp
Updated 18 May 2024
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One Palestinian killed, eight wounded in Israeli strike on West Bank refugee camp

One Palestinian killed, eight wounded in Israeli strike on West Bank refugee camp
  • Israel has killed more than 35,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry

RAMALLAH, West Bank: At least one person was killed and eight wounded on Friday in an Israeli air strike on the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank, the Palestinian health ministry and Israeli military said.
The Palestinian health ministry said the eight wounded people were in stable condition and receiving treatment at hospitals. Reuters could not immediately confirm their identities.
The Israeli military said a fighter jet conducted the strike, a rarity in the West Bank, where violence had been surging long before the Gaza war.
Residents of the refugee camp said a house was targeted.
The West Bank is among territories Israel occupied in a 1967 Middle East war. Palestinians want it to be the core of an independent Palestinian state.