Turkey lets Ha­mas plot war on Is­rael

Agents plan at­tacks from Is­tan­bul haven as Er­do­gan en­ter­tains ter­ror group’s leader

The Daily Telegraph - - Front Page - By Raf Sanchez in Is­tan­bul

TURKEY is al­low­ing se­nior Ha­mas op­er­a­tives to plot at­tacks against Is­rael from Is­tan­bul, The Daily Tele­graph can dis­close, as Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan plays host to the ter­ror­ist group’s lead­ers.

Transcript­s of Is­raeli po­lice in­ter­ro­ga­tions with sus­pects show that se­nior Ha­mas op­er­a­tives are us­ing Turkey’s largest city to di­rect op­er­a­tions in Jerusalem and the oc­cu­pied West Bank, in­clud­ing an as­sas­si­na­tion at­tempt ear­lier this year on the mayor of Jerusalem.

Is­rael has re­peat­edly told Turkey that Ha­mas is us­ing its ter­ri­tory to plan at­tacks, but last week­end Mr Er­doğan met Is­mail Haniyeh, the head of Ha­mas, and Turk­ish in­tel­li­gence agents main­tain close con­tact with the group’s op­er­a­tives in Is­tan­bul. “We will keep on sup­port­ing our brothers in Pales­tine,” Mr Er­doğan said.

Turkey is al­ready fac­ing ques­tions from Western al­lies over its sup­port for ex­trem­ist rebels in north­ern Syria and over its com­mit­ment to Nato af­ter buy­ing a Rus­sian mis­sile sys­tem.

Turkey agreed in a Us-bro­kered 2015 deal with Is­rael to stop Ha­mas plan­ning at­tacks from its soil but has con­sis­tently failed to hon­our the agree­ment, Is­raeli of­fi­cials said.

The is­sue has fu­elled hos­til­ity be­tween the two states, even though they main­tain diplo­matic re­la­tions. “Is­rael is ex­tremely con­cerned that Turkey is al­low­ing Ha­mas ter­ror­ists to op­er­ate from its ter­ri­tory, in plan­ning and en­gag­ing in ter­ror­ist at­tacks against Is­raeli civil­ians,” its for­eign min­istry said.

The Turk­ish gov­ern­ment has of­fered Ha­mas safe har­bour in Is­tan­bul even as Arab states such as Saudi Ara­bia have dis­tanced them­selves from the group and moved closer to Is­rael. Ha­mas is con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist group by the EU and US. Its armed wing has been des­ig­nated a ter­ror group by the UK.

Turkey has proved such a wel­com­ing en­vi­ron­ment for Ha­mas that the group’s deputy leader, who has a $5 mil­lion US gov­ern­ment bounty on his head, trav­els freely to the coun­try with­out fear of ar­rest. A dozen Ha­mas op­er­a­tives have moved to Is­tan­bul from the Ha­mas-con­trolled Gaza Strip in the past year, ac­cord­ing to Is­raeli and Egyp­tian in­tel­li­gence records.

Among them is the former leader of a sui­cide bomb­ing cell re­spon­si­ble for some of the blood­i­est at­tacks in Is­rael in the Nineties.

In one failed plot in Fe­bru­ary, a Ha­mas of­fi­cial or­dered a Pales­tinian to as­sas­si­nate Jerusalem’s mayor, an MP from Benjamin Ne­tanyahu’s party or Is­rael’s chief of po­lice. The plot failed. In an­other case, a Ha­mas op­er­a­tive of­fered to pay $20,000 to the fam­ily of any would-be sui­cide bomber.

A Turk­ish diplo­matic source de­nied Ha­mas was plan­ning at­tacks from Turkey. He said the group was “not a ter­ror­ist or­gan­i­sa­tion” but a le­git­i­mate Pales­tinian po­lit­i­cal party. Ha­mas de­nied plan­ning at­tacks from Turk­ish soil and dis­missed Is­rael’s com­plaints as “base­less al­le­ga­tions” de­signed to dam­age po­lit­i­cal re­la­tions with Turkey.

“Ha­mas’s re­sis­tance ac­tiv­i­ties are con­ducted only in the land of oc­cu­pied Pales­tine,” a Ha­mas spokesman said. Lead­ing Ha­mas op­er­a­tives and al­leged linked busi­nesses did not re­spond to re­quests for in­ter­views.

Ha­mas is a Pales­tinian mil­i­tant group whose ide­ol­ogy mixes Is­lamist ex­trem­ism and Pales­tinian na­tion­al­ism. The group was founded in 1987 and op­poses Is­rael’s ex­is­tence within any bor­ders. It swears in­stead to es­tab­lish an Is­lamic state in his­tor­i­cal Pales­tine, which in­cludes Is­rael. Its sec­u­lar ri­val, the late Yasser Arafat’s Fatah, takes a more mod­er­ate ap­proach and sup­ports a two-state so­lu­tion.

Ha­mas pi­o­neered the use of sui­cide bombers in the Nineties and is re­spon­si­ble for the deaths of hun­dreds of Is­raeli civil­ians and sol­diers. It is con­sid­ered a ter­ror­ist group by the US and EU, while the UK has des­ig­nated its armed wing a ter­ror or­gan­i­sa­tion.

Ha­mas won the most re­cent Pales­tinian elec­tions in 2006 and sub­se­quently seized power in Gaza by force and drove out its Fatah ri­vals. The two groups re­main bit­ter ri­vals and Ha­mas strug­gles to op­er­ate in the West Bank partly be­cause the Fatah-con­trolled Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity there co­op­er­ates closely with Is­raeli forces to com­bat its ac­tiv­i­ties.

The group fires rock­ets into Is­rael but in­creas­ingly fo­cuses on im­prov­ing eco­nomic and hu­man­i­tar­ian con­di­tions in Gaza as a way of pre­serv­ing its grip on power.

The group has long main­tained links with Iran, whose Rev­o­lu­tion­ary Guard has sup­plied it with fi­nances and, al­legedly, weapons. De­spite near-to­tal iso­la­tion in the West, it also en­joys back­ing and ties with ma­jor re­gional and in­ter­na­tional pow­ers.

Is­mail Haniyeh, head of the Ha­mas polit­buro, met pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan in Turkey last Satur­day, then the Emir of Qatar in Doha, and is set to fly on to Rus­sia and Malaysia.

The grand tour, af­ter Egypt gave him per­mis­sion to travel out­side the Gaza Strip for the first time in three years, has raised spec­u­la­tion about the group’s fu­ture in the re­gion.

There is un­con­firmed spec­u­la­tion that Don­ald Trump may push the group into a tri­par­tite peace deal with Is­rael and the Pales­tinian Au­thor­ity.

Although Ha­mas and Is­rael pub­licly con­sider one an­other mor­tal en­e­mies, be­hind the scenes the two have been qui­etly ex­plor­ing diplo­matic op­tions.

In the past year, they have held stop­start talks to­ward a deal in which Is­rael loosens its 12-year block­ade of the Strip in re­turn for Ha­mas halt­ing rocket fire and keep­ing the bor­der quiet.

That has caused some ten­sion with ri­val mil­i­tant groups. Last month, Is­lamic Ji­had, a smaller group also based in the Gaza Strip, fired rock­ets into Is­rael and ac­cused Ha­mas of stand­ing aside when Is­rael launched re­tal­ia­tory airstrikes.

Is­rael, for its part, ap­peared to take pains to avoid hit­ting Ha­mas po­si­tions.

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