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Recruitment of Palestinian students for terrorist activities, military training and economic aid to Hamas in Gaza: Erdogan’s harsh speech against Israel does not surprise anyone in the defense establishment, which views Turkey as one of Hamas’ main bases abroad.
Despite the reconciliation agreement, Turkey has been sponsoring—at least in silence or in complete and open disregard—Hamas activities in its territory, including those of its military wing.
Before the signing of the reconciliation agreement, Israeli NGO Shurat HaDin approached Netanyahu and asked him not to sign the accord due to Turkey’s continued backing of Hamas operatives. The calls were not heeded.
The main activities of the organization in Turkey is coordinating terror cells in the West Bank and according to the defense establishment, the relationship with Hamas leadership in Gaza is administered directly by the Turkish government in Ankara.
Hamas’ presence in Turkey continues despite the departure of Saleh al-Arouri, who headed Hamas in Turkey before leaving the country following Israeli demands during the reconciliation negotiations.
His successors are recruiting Palestinian students to study in Muslim countries in general and Turkey in particular. The students are then sent for military training in Lebanon or Syria, and from there, return to the West Bank to carry out attacks against Israel.
The reconciliation agreement between Israel and Turkey was supposed to make it more difficult for Hamas to operate in Turkish territory, but Monday’s verbal assault by Erdogan has demonstrated otherwise.
For example, two months ago, the IDF and Shin Bet detained, a Palestinian who had been living in Turkish Cyprus for several years. In August 2015, Qazmar was recruited in Jordan by Hamas, given military training and explosives expertise. During a meeting with Hamas operatives in Istanbul last January, he was instructed to recruit terrorists in the West Bank using encrypted memory cards.
Another highly publicized case concerns Muhammad Murtaja, who has head of a humanitarian aid organization of the Turkish government in Gaza. According to the Shin Bet following his arrest, Murtaja was accused of transferring millions of dollars to Hamas operatives that was donated by Ankara.
The Shin Bet also accused Murtaja of being directly involved in Hamas’ tunnel building enterprise in the Gaza Strip.
Considering these issues, it is doubtful many in Israel’s security establishment were surprised by Erdogan’s comments Monday.
(Translated and edited by Fred Goldberg)