Israel withdrew its ambassador from Ankara on Saturday and is reassessing relations with Turkey due to President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s pro-Hamas stance, Israeli Foreign Minister Eli Cohen announced on Saturday night.
“Given the grave statements coming from Turkey, I have ordered the return of diplomatic representatives there in order to conduct a reevaluation of the relations between Israel and Turkey,” Cohen posted to X, formerly Twitter.
At a mass rally in Istanbul earlier Saturday, Erdoğan said that “Hamas is not a terrorist organization” but rather “a liberation group fighting to protect its lands.”
The rally was organized by Erdoğan’s ruling AK Party.
“Israel strongly condemns the Turkish president’s severe remarks about the Hamas terrorist organization. Hamas is a despicable terrorist organization that ruthlessly and intentionally murders babies, children, women, and the elderly, abducts civilians and uses its own people as human shields,” said the Israeli Foreign Ministry in response.
“Erdoğan’s attempt to defend a terrorist organization and his inflammatory statements won’t change the horrors seen by the world that proves Hamas is ISIS,” it added.
Some 1,400 Israelis were killed and more than 220 taken hostage during Hamas’s cross-border invasion of southern Israel on Oct. 7.
Speaking to the parliament in Ankara earlier on Wednesday, Erdoğan argued that Hamas is “a group of mujahideen [‘jihadists’] defending their lands and people.”
“The perpetrators of the massacre and the destruction taking place in Gaza are those providing unlimited support for Israel,” said the Turkish president, adding that “Israel’s attacks on Gaza, for both itself and those supporting them, amount to murder and mental illness.”
After a long diplomatic cold spell, ties between Ankara and Jerusalem had warmed, but they have slid backwards as Erdoğan sides with Hamas.
On Sept. 20, during a meeting on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly annual general debate in New York, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told Erdoğan that “our ties are improving,” and the two leaders agreed to continue advancing bilateral relations.
Netanyahu was expected to visit Turkey before December, becoming the first Israeli premier to do so since 2008. Erdoğan planned to visit the Jewish state in return, his office announced late last month.
However, Erdoğan told lawmakers on Wednesday that he had dropped his planned trip to Jerusalem, saying relations between the two countries would not improve. “We had a project to go to Israel, but it was canceled; we will not go,” he said.
Erdoğan has long been a champion of the Palestinians, and his government harbors members of Hamas. Last year saw the 10th anniversary of the official establishment of Hamas’s offices in Istanbul.