After Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed that Hamas is not a terrorist organization, Israel’s Foreign Ministry hit back on Wednesday night, saying Ankara’s “inciting words will not change the horrors that the whole world has seen.”
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,” the Turkish president said, adding, “Israel’s attacks on Gaza, for both itself and those supporting them, amount to murder and mental illness.
“Western tears shed for Israel are a manifestation of fraud,” added Erdoğan.
Hamas terrorists killed at least 1,400 Israelis and wounded more than 5,000 in a massive offensive launched from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7, which included the firing of thousands of rockets at Israel and the infiltration of the Jewish state by terrorist forces.
At least 222 people were taken to Gaza as hostages, according to the Israel Defense Forces.
Israeli Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lior Haiat responded by saying that the Jewish state “wholeheartedly rejects the Turkish president’s harsh words about the terrorist organization Hamas.
“Hamas is a despicable terrorist organization worse than ISIS that brutally and intentionally murders babies, children, women and the elderly, takes civilians hostage and uses its own people as human shields,” Haiat wrote in a statement published on X (formerly Twitter).
“Even the Turkish president’s attempt to defend the terrorist organization and his inciting words will not change the horrors that the whole world has seen and the unequivocal fact: Hamas = ISIS,” concluded the spokesman.
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.
On Saturday, Erdoğan is expected to attend a large anti-Israel rally in Istanbul organized by his governing AK Party.
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.
The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, in a 2021 report, said that Hamas’s headquarters in Istanbul has directed hundreds of terrorist attacks against Israelis and laundered millions of dollars.
“Turkey collaborates with terror organizations on both the ideological and operational levels. Terrorists working on Turkish soil establish infrastructures and plan terror attacks against Israel,” the report noted.
Senior Hamas officials—most of them former security prisoners who served sentences for terrorism and were released in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange—”are operating from Turkey against Israel. Some have even been granted Turkish citizenship,” the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs reported.
Israel’s National Security Council raised its travel warning to Turkey to the highest level last week, urging all Israelis there to leave the country immediately.
“In the wake of ‘Operation Swords of Iron,’ there has been a significant worsening of terrorist threats towards Jews and Israelis around the world,” the National Security Council published in its updated travel advisory on Oct. 17.
“The NSC recommends that Israelis who have yet to leave Türkiye take all recommended cautionary measures (detailed on the NSC website) and avoid, as much possible, gatherings and public places, the overt display of Israeli and Jewish indicators, and places identified as Jewish or with an Israeli connection.”