Erdogan calls Hamas a ‘liberation group’ that is ‘waging a battle to protect its lands’


((JEWISH REVIEW)) — Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan praised Hamas and canceled a trip to Israel as it fights a war with the terror group in Gaza.

“Hamas is not a terrorist organization, it is a liberation group, mujahideen waging a battle to protect its lands and people,” Erdogan said Wednesday in remarks to his ruling AK Party, as translated by Reuters. “Mujahideen,” an Arabic term, means “holy warrior.”

Erdogan said calling Hamas a terrorist group is a policy of the West. “We aren’t indebted to Israel,” he said. “But the West is.”

Turkey condemned Hamas’ invasion of Israel on Oct. 7, in which terrorists killed more than 1,400 people, most of them civilians, wounded thousands and abducted more than 200.

Israel subsequently declared war and has launched airstrikes on Gaza, killing more than 5,000, including a large number of children, according to the territory’s Hamas-controlled health ministry. It is not clear how many of those killed in Gaza are terrorists.

Erdogan’s statement Wednesday is an example of how the war’s ripple effects across the Middle East. Before Oct. 7, Turkey was reconciling with Israel after more than a decade of tensions that were sparked in 2010 by a deadly Israeli raid on a Turkish flotilla attempting to breach Israel’s blockade of Gaza.  Then, as now, the territory was under Hamas control.

Turkish-Israeli ties began warming again after the 2020 Abraham Accords. The treaty normalized relations between Israel and four Arab countries, boosted regional commerce and left Iran increasingly isolated. The Biden Administration encouraged Turkish-Israeli reconciliation, seeing it as a key piece of further isolating Iran, and its ally Russia, which invaded Ukraine.

Turkey is a member of the NATO military alliance, and Biden is rushing defense assistance and U.S. military personnel to the Middle East to deter an expansion of the war. Erdogan’s hostility toward Israel could complicate aspects of that effort.

The Israel-Hamas war has also led to the suspension of U.S.-led negotiations over an Israel-Saudi Arabia treaty, another diplomatic process that grew out of the Abraham Accords.