Turkey has granted citizenship to a dozen high-ranking members of the Hamas terror group living on Turkish soil who have been involved in orchestrating terror attacks, the Reuters news wire reported citing an Israeli diplomat.
“Some are in the process, some already got (the documents), but we are talking about around a dozen,” says Roey Gilad, chargé d’affaires at Israel’s Embassy in Turkey, according to Reuters.
According to Gilad, Israel has evidence to that end.
“We have already one document that we will present to the government in copy,” he said. “Judging by the last experience we had by presenting a well-based portfolio to the government… and getting no reply, I must say I don’t have high hopes that something will be done this time.”
He added the Hamas members receiving Turkish passports were financing and organizing “terror-related activity” in Istanbul, but Turkey had not taken action.
According to Gilad, many of them came to Turkey under the 2011 prisoner exchange deal between Hamas and Israel to exchange captured Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit for more than 1,000 prisoners.
A senior regional source told the Telegraph that seven some of the Hamas members are living in Turkey under aliases. Citizenship has also been granted to the families of the Hamas members, the paper said.
“These are not foot soldiers but the most senior Hamas operatives outside of Gaza,” the source told the paper, adding they are are “actively raising funds and directing operatives to carry out attacks in the present day.”
“The Turkish Government gave in to pressure by Hamas to grant citizenship to its operatives, thereby allowing them to travel more freely, endangering other countries that have listed Hamas as a terror group.”
One of the cell members who has apparently received citizenship is Zacharia Najib, who was responsible for a plot to assassinate high-ranking Israeli officials, including the national police commissioner and Likud MK Nir Barkat, who was then mayor of Jerusalem.
Turkish citizens can already travel visa-free to a range of countries, the Telegraph noted, adding that Turkey is working to obtain a similar privilege to European Union countries.
The U.S. 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.”