Erdogan meets Hamas leader as settlement talks loom large

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal meet in Istanbul amid talk that Ankara is close to patching up a six-year rift with Israel.

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan meets with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Istanbul, Turkey, on Dec. 19, 2015 in this handout photo provided by the Presidential Palace.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on Friday met the leader of Palestinian group Hamas for unscheduled talks following reports that Ankara is close to agreeing a deal on normalising ties with Israel.

Erdogan received the Doha-based Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, whose group governs the Gaza Strip, at the Ottoman-era Yildiz Palace in Istanbul, the semi-official Anadolu Agency reported, quoting presidential sources.

Turkish press reports have said that Israel and Turkey could hold final talks on normalising ties on Sunday, but this is yet to be confirmed.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said on Thursday that there was a "large possibility" the negotiations would take place by the end of this month.

Anadolu Agency said that Erdogan and Meshaal discussed how to ease the humanitarian problems of the Palestinians and how to bridge the differences between Hamas and rival Palestinian group Fatah.

Palestinian youths hold posters of Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal ,second right, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, second left, during a rally supporting Hamas in Jebaliya, northern Gaza Strip, on Jan. 30, 2009.

The report made no reference to the Turkish-Israeli talks.

Relations between Israel and Turkey have been worsening since 2009, when then prime minister - now president - Recep Tayyip Erdogan chided Israel’s then president Shimon Peres at the World Economic Forum meeting in Davos, Switzerland, over Israel’s actions in Gaza.

Ties were strained even further following the Israeli attack on the Mavi Marmara, one of the six civilian ships of the Gaza Freedom Flotilla, in international waters in the Mediterranean Sea. Nine Turkish citizens were killed when Israeli commandos opened fire on ship in a bungled raid, with a 10th activist later dying from as a result of heavy wounds.

A banner depicting the faces of the nine men killed, displayed on the Mavi Marmara ship, the lead boat of a flotilla headed to the Gaza Strip, in Istanbul, Turkey on Dec. 26, 2010.

The flotilla was set up by an international coalition called the Free Gaza Movement, which included the Turkish Foundation for Human Rights and Freedoms and the the Turkish charity IHH. Its aim was to break Israel’s naval blockade on the Gaza Strip, which was enforced in 2007 when Hamas came to power Gaza.

Two of Turkey's key conditions for normalisation -- an apology and compensation -- were largely met. But Turkey's third demand - that Israel lifts its blockade on Gaza - has not been met. For Israel, limiting Hamas activity in Turkey has been a key demand.

According to Turkey’s daily Hurriyet, a compromise was reached between negotiators, with Turkey set to send aid for Palestinians via the Israeli port of Ashdod rather than sending it directly to Gaza.

TRTWorld and agencies