Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu met with Hamas supremo Khaled Meshaal in Damascus, Anatolia news agency reported Tuesday, a move that threatens to fan fresh tensions with Israel.
The two men met on Monday to discuss efforts to heal the rift between Hamas — the resistance militant group controlling the Gaza Strip — and the Fatah faction of Palestinian leader Mahmud Abbas.
The Middle East peace process was also on their agenda, Anatolia said.
The meeting took place amid simmering tensions between Turkey and its one-time ally Israel over the killing of nine Turks on May 31 in an Israeli raid on a Turkish ship that was part of a flotilla carrying aid to Gaza.
Israel has reacted angrily to previous contacts between Turkish officials and Hamas.
Davutoglu was in the Syrian capital Damascus for a one-day visit Monday, after which he headed to Afghanistan for an international conference on the future of the war-torn country.
Foreign ministry officials were unable to immediately confirm the meeting.
In an angry tirade following the bloodshed on the aid flotilla, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan rejected the “terrorist” label for Hamas, defending the group as “resistance fighters who are struggling to defend their land.”
Erdogan’s government insists that peace cannot be achieved in the Middle East if Hamas is excluded from the process.
It has also urged the armed group, to renounce armed resistance and engage in peaceful politics.
The ill-fated aid flotilla, spearheaded by a Turkish Islamist charity, had aimed to break the Israeli blockade of the impoverished Palestinian enclave and deliver tonnes of humanitarian supplies to its people.
Israel eased the blockade following international pressure in the wake of the raid.
The bloodshed plunged Turkish-Israeli relations into deep crisis, with Ankara insisting that ties cannot be repaired unless Israel apologises, compensates the victims’ families and fully lifts the blockade.
In February 2006, Ankara angered Israel when it hosted a delegation led by Meshaal following Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections, in what Turkish officials defended as an effort to press the militant group to lay down arms.
A Turkish team led by Davutoglu in January 2009 acted as a mediator between Hamas leaders based in Syria and Egyptian officials seeking to hammer out a ceasefire deal to end Israel’s devastating 22-day war on Gaza.
Source ALARAB ONLINE.CO.UK.