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Israel demands Turkey close Hamas office as condition for improving ties

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) as they pose for a photo during their meeting at Vahdettin Pavilion in Istanbul, Turkey on February 1, 2020. [Murat Kula / Anadolu Agency]
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) shakes hands with Hamas political chief Ismail Haniyeh (L) as they pose for a photo during their meeting at Vahdettin Pavilion in Istanbul, Turkey on 1 February 2020 [Murat Kula/Anadolu Agency]

Israel does not intend to resume normal relations with Turkey and send its ambassador back to Ankara unless the Turkish government closes a Hamas office in Istanbul. The office is alleged to be run by the military wing of the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement.

"[President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan would be happy to return our ambassador to Ankara, but what we are interested in is Hamas activity in Turkey," an Israeli official is quoted as saying by Ynet.

In 2019, it was claimed that some of the movement's senior figures were using Istanbul as a safe haven. Then in October last year, the Times of Israel reported that the group had set up an office in the city, as well as a secret facility which it allegedly uses to conduct cyberattacks on Israel.

Over the past few years, Turkey has presented itself as a supporter of the Palestinian cause, breaking off relations with Israel in 2018 when the US and a few other countries began to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

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In August last year, Erdogan hosted a Hamas delegation led by the head of its Political Bureau, Ismail Haniyeh. Washington condemned the meeting.

Turkey has also presented itself as a mediator between the Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah, allowing them to meet and negotiate in Istanbul last September. The factions came to an agreement on measures for national dialogue.

Following those talks, however, Hamas was accused of delaying its confirmation of the deal. In November the movement said that the reconciliation process was ruined when Fatah and the Palestinian Authority returned to the policy of security cooperation with Israel.

Since the end of last year, reports have emerged of Turkey and Israel re-establishing relations and returning each other's ambassadors to their posts. Despite expressing his desire for those improved links, though, Erdogan has called Israel's treatment of the Palestinians "unacceptable" and reiterated that its Palestine policy is a "red line".

In response to Israel's condition for normalisation, Turkey hit back and said that it also has its own conditions. "The relations would normalise if Israel stops its illegal actions such as annexations against the Palestinians," said Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu. "Without this, relations would go sideways in any case."

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