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Erdoğan’s defense of Hamas draws ire, criticism from allies

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Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s recent remarks defending Hamas as “liberators” have drawn numerous reactions from the United States, Germany and Italy, ranging from mild to harsh criticism.

Erdoğan made the remarks at a party meeting in Ankara on Wednesday, saying Hamas is not a terrorist organization but a group fighting for their land. Israel’s Foreign Ministry was among the first to condemn the remarks, saying Erdoğan’s words will not change the “horrors that the whole world has seen,” referring to Hamas’s Oct. 7 attacks on Israel that resulted in war.

Following Israel, the US State Department also spoke out in response to a request from the Voice of America’s Turkish service (VOA Türkçe), reiterating that Hamas has been classified as a terrorist organization by the United States since 1997. The spokesman rejected any comparison between Israel’s response to Hamas and Russia’s attack on Ukraine.

Republican Senator Rick Scott of Florida even called on the US to “seriously consider” Turkey’s NATO membership in light of Erdoğan’s remarks.

Across the Atlantic, Italy’s Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini also had strong words, describing Erdoğan’s comments as “grave and disgusting.”

German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck stated that he completely disagrees with Erdoğan’s remarks on Hamas, according to Germany’s ZDF news website.

Habeck is quoted as saying that Hamas is not fighting for the freedom of the Palestinian population, but on the contrary has slaughtered Israelis and bears responsibility for the terrible suffering in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza.

Israel began pounding Gaza after Hamas militants carried out an unprecedented surprise attack in Israel on Oct. 7 that claimed more than 1,400 lives. The ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza have so far claimed more than 6,500 lives, according to local health officials.

In the United States, American Jewish leaders, some of whom had recently met with Erdoğan, strongly criticized his stance. William Daroff, the CEO of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, labeled Erdoğan as “a charlatan” more interested in promoting violence against Jews than in fostering peace.

Abe Foxman, the former national director of the Anti-Defamation League, echoed this sentiment, describing Erdoğan’s fluctuating relations as cynical and driven by his personal political needs.

What Erdoğan has to gain from this stance, other than scoring points with his electorate ahead of local elections, remains to be seen, but there was one actor who welcomed his remarks.

According to a report on the Middle East Monitor news website, Izzat Al-Rishq, a member of Hamas’s political bureau, praised Erdoğan for defending the militant group.

NATO member Turkey’s Western allies have time and again criticized what they see as the government of Turkish President Erdoğan providing a safe haven for Hamas officials and members.

According to a Sunday article in the Washington-based Al-Monitor, Haniyeh was in İstanbul on Oct. 7, contradicting previous reports that he was in his office in Doha, Qatar.

Two different sources told Al-Monitor that Haniyeh was politely sent away after footage circulated on social media showing him and other Hamas members prostrating themselves in a “prayer of gratitude” while watching news of the incursion on television. Erdoğan’s communications directorate has denied the claims.

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