The State Department on Tuesday strongly objected to a weekend meeting in Istanbul between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and a delegation of senior Hamas leaders, including wanted terrorists.
State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus said Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh and deputy chief Saleh al-Arouri are designated by the U.S. and European Union as “Specially Designated Global Terrorists.”
Al-Arouri, who has a $5 million bounty on his head from U.S. authorities, is wanted for his ties to several terror attacks, kidnappings and hijackings, including the 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers — one with U.S. citizenship — in the West Bank, which he praised as a “heroic operation.” Ortagus said in a statement:
President Erdoğan’s continued outreach to this terrorist organization 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.
We continue to raise our concerns about the Turkish government’s relationship with Hamas at the highest levels. This is the second time President Erdogan has welcomed Hamas leadership to Turkey this year with the first meeting occurring February 1.
The response came as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo left Jerusalem for Khartoum in Sudan for the second leg of his Middle East tour.
The condemnation marks a departure from U.S. policy, which for years has ignored Ankara’s ongoing support for the terrorist group.
According to The Jerusalem Post, this is because the U.S. has traditionally sought closer ties with Turkey as “part of wishful thinking that [it] would turn away from Iran and Russia and work with the US on regional issues.”
The meeting also included Hamas’ overseas leader Maher Salah, Hamas head of Arab and Islamic religions, Ezzat al-Rihiq, and Hamas representative in Turkey, Jihad Yaghmor.
The delegation met with the Turkish prime minister to discuss the U.S.-brokered normalization agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates, which both sides deeply oppose.
Hamas and Turkey’s ruling party have roots in the Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdogan in the past has panned the U.S. for “working with terrorists” in Syria, over U.S. support for Kurdish fighters combating ISIS.
Islamic State members who escape Syria find refuge in Turkey.
Ankara has detained several U.S. citizens, including U.S. pastor, Andrew Brunson, a U.S. soldier and a U.S. consulate employee who was imprisoned. President Donald Trump thanked Erdogan at the Republican National Convention for releasing Brunson, who was held for two years, in 2018.
A spokesperson for the terror group said it “hailed the Turkish honorable position in support of the Palestinian’s rights and steadfastness.”
Hamas chief Haniyeh “congratulated Erdogan on the advent of a new Hijri year, discovery of a new natural-gas field and the reopening of the Aya Sofia Mosque,” according to a statement released by the terror group.
The Aya Sofia Mosque was one of two ancient churches that Turkey turned into mosques recently, causing a storm of controversy.
Hamas also said it was working against Israel’s “Judaization of Jerusalem.”
According to the UK’s Telegraph newspaper, Turkey has granted citizenship to senior operatives of a Hamas terrorist cell. The paper also reported that Hamas plotted terror attacks from Turkish soil.