Turkey has not expelled members of Hamas - Turkish official
Turkey has not expelled members of the Palestinian movement Hamas, the Middle East Eye reported on Tuesday, citing an unidentified Turkish official and other unnamed sources.
The Turkish authorities have no plans to kick out members of the Muslim Brotherhood either, they said.
“No Hamas member has been deported or sent back to Palestine,” one senior Turkish official told MEE. “The Hamas members who were in Turkey before the rapprochement are still here.”
The comments contradict several reports of at least a partial Turkish crackdown on Hamas. Turkey has intensified restrictions on its leaders and activists, deporting dozens and preventing others from entering the country, The New Arab reported on Monday, citing senior Hamas officials that it did not identify. Last week, the Israeli media said dozens had been deported, citing unidentified Palestinian officials.
Israel has been calling on Turkey to shut down Hamas’s activities and offices in Istanbul and elsewhere as the two countries seek to repair ties damaged by Turkey’s support for the group and its harsh criticism of Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu is due to travel to Israel later this month, the Israeli media reported this week, following a visit to Turkey by Israeli President Isaac Herzog in March.
In November, Israel’s public broadcaster Kan reported that a Hamas gunman behind a Nov. 21 terror attack in Jerusalem had contacts with senior Hamas officials in Turkey and travelled there several times in the months leading up to the attack. Security agencies said the gunman, Fadi Abu Shkhaydam, met with senior Hamas officials, who then guided his plans. Shkhaydam’s family denied the allegations, saying he travelled to Istanbul to meet with his son and to inspect property that he owned there.
Turkey has a long-held policy of refusing entry to members of Hamas' military wing, and warns the group not to send them to the country, the Turkish official told the MEE.
Security agency Shin Bet said last year that a large and sophisticated Hamas cell in the West Bank had been managed by Hamas politburo deputy Saleh al-Arouri and Zacharia Najib, another senior Hamas member. Both men lived in Turkey, at least partly, it said.
The Israeli government has been calling on Turkey to act against Arouri for several years. After the news broke of the large Hamas cell in the West Bank, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid reiterated that Turkey must shut down Hamas’ offices in Istanbul if it wants to normalise relations.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has strengthened his country’s regional and global standing among many Muslims by supporting political Islamist groups in the Middle East and elsewhere and by highlighting what he terms as discrimination or targeting of Muslims. Any expulsion of members of Hamas or the Muslim Brotherhood stands to undermine that policy and the popularity he has gained.
In the last few weeks, Israeli officials have said there is no rush to normalise ties with Turkey and the process needed to be taken step by step, depending on Turkey’s behaviour and actions.
Turkey also has no plans to expel members of the Muslim Brotherhood, which Egypt has outlawed following a military coup in 2013 that ousted President Mohamed Morsi, who belonged to the party, the MEE said citing the sources. Turkey is also seeking to repair broken ties with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which has also banned the group.
“There is no visible pressure on the Ikhwan [Muslim Brotherhood] members, now. Also, we focus on teaching Islamic sciences to our Egyptian and some Turkish brothers,” a senior official of the group told the MEE.
Last year, Turkey called on Egyptian opposition channels to tone down criticism of the government and to phase out their political programming. Egyptian opposition TV channel Mekameleen, which has close ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, said last month that it had shut down its Turkey offices and would be broadcasting from other locations.
“There are some brothers who are examining asylum procedures of other countries, such as South Africa, Germany and Malaysia, if the Turkish government raises difficulties for renewing their residence permits,” the Muslim Brotherhood official told the MEE.