Turkish President Meets Hamas Leader

Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal in Istanbul on Sunday, days after Turkey and Israel appeared to be close to mending a five-year diplomatic crisis between the two countries.

A Turkish presidential source said Meshaal “briefed Erdogan on the latest developments in the region,” but gave no other details.

Hamas member Saleh al-Aruri

Hamas member Saleh al-Aruri

Israeli officials said late on Thursday that a deal with Turkey was struck to normalize ties following high-level bilateral talks in Switzerland. Haaretz reports that Turkey has given in to Israeli demands that senior Hamas member Saleh al-Aruri be expelled from the country as part of the deal.

Al-Aruri admitted in August 2014 that Hamas’ armed wing, the Kassam Brigades, kidnapped and murdered three Israeli teens – Gilad Shaarh, Naftali Frenkel, and Eyal Yifrah – calling it a “blessed and heroic action” carried out in support of Palestinian prisoners.

That incident caused an Israeli crackdown on Hamas in the West Bank. Hundreds of members were arrested and assets seized in a series of night-time raids conducted by Israel, which eventually sparked into a full-blown military offensive against Gaza on July 8, 2014.

Turkish officials said a final agreement was yet to be sealed, but that given the progress it would not be too long.

Israel’s once-strong ties to Turkey soured in 2010 when Israeli commandos killed 10 Turkish activists when storming the Mavi Marmara, a ship in a convoy seeking to break an Israeli naval blockade of the Palestinian territory of Gaza.

Turkey had demanded Israel pay compensation and apologize for the assault, and lift the Gaza blockade. While Israel has paid US$20 million to a humanitarian fund that is distributing the money to families of the deceased and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu personally apologized to Erdogan in 2013, the country has said it has no intention of lifting the blockade. Israel’s main focus has been limiting Hamas activity in Turkey.

Hard-liners in Turkey have insisted no deal would be signed until the Israeli blockade of Gaza is lifted.

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