The leaders of Hamas living outside the Gaza Strip are desperately searching for a country that will agree to have them. According to a recent report, one country seems prepared to play host to the Hamas leaders: Turkey. Pictured: Turkey's President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (then serving as prime minister) meets with Hamas leaders Khaled Mashaal (center) and Ismail Haniyeh (left) in Ankara, Turkey on June 18, 2013. (Image source: Turkish Prime Minister Press Office/Yasin Bulbul/AFP via Getty Images)
The leaders of Hamas living outside the Gaza Strip are desperately searching for a country that will agree to have them. According to a recent report, one country seems prepared to play host to the Hamas leaders: Turkey.
Two senior Hamas officials, Ismail Haniyeh and Saleh Arouri, have already decided to settle in Turkey, apparently after getting the green light to do so from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Three other Hamas officials, Zaher Jabareen, Musa Abu Marzouk and Nizar Awadallah, have also relocated to Turkey, from Qatar and Lebanon respectively.
Haniyeh's wife and children, who are based in the Gaza Strip, are expected to join him in Turkey in the near future.
Haniyeh, who left the Gaza Strip in December 2019, has reportedly been banned by the Egyptians from returning to the Hamas-ruled coastal enclave, home to some two million Palestinians. Reports in the Arab media have suggested that Haniyeh fell from Egypt's good graces when he broke a promise not to visit Iran after Egypt allowed him to leave the Gaza Strip through the Egyptian-Gazan Rafah border crossing.
Shortly after he left the Gaza Strip, Haniyeh traveled to Iran, where he attended the funeral of Qassem Soleimani, the former commander of Iran's Quds Force, who was assassinated in a targeted US drone strike on January 3 in Baghdad, Iraq. Soleimani, whom the US designated as a terrorist in 2005, was also personally sanctioned by the United Nations and the European Union.
In a speech at the funeral of Soleimani in Tehran, Haniyeh, head of the Hamas "political bureau," said: "I declare that the resistance project in Palestine will continue and will not be weakened, and it won't retreat." Haniyeh praised the slain Iranian military commander as a "martyr of Al-Quds [Jerusalem] who made great sacrifices in order to safeguard Palestine and the resistance."
Haniyeh's visit to Iran and Hamas's continued anti-Israel activities and terrorist attacks have enraged Egypt, which has been working hard to achieve a long-term ceasefire agreement between the Hamas faction based in Gaza, and Israel. The Egyptians are apparently also angered by Iran's continued military and financial support for Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the two major players in the Gaza Strip.
Arab countries that have previously welcomed Hamas leaders and permitted them to establish bases and use their territories to plan terrorist attacks on Israel, now seem to be turning their back on Hamas.
In 2011, Hamas leaders were expelled from Syria after they refused to support President Bashar Assad in his conflict with Syrian opposition groups. The Syrians have since turned down requests by Hamas's friends in Iran and Hezbollah to restore ties with the Hamas leadership.
Qatar, Lebanon and Sudan are said to have cut back their relations with Hamas, apparently out of fear of being accused by the international community of harboring a Palestinian terrorist group that seeks the elimination of Israel.
Saudi Arabia has gone further, by putting dozens of Palestinians and Jordanian activists on trial for supporting Hamas. At least 68 Palestinians and Jordanians have been indicted in a "special terrorism court" in the kingdom. The suspects were detained by Saudi security authorities in April 2019. Among those arrested was Mohammed al-Khudari, 81, a long-time Palestinian resident of Saudi Arabia, who previously served as Hamas's official representative in the kingdom.
Arouri, the other Hamas official expected to join Haniyeh in Turkey, is wanted by Israel and the US for his involvement in terrorism. In 2018, the US State Department offered a reward of up to $5 million for information that would lead to the identification or location of Arouri, deputy head of Hamas's "political bureau."
According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Arouri is a key figure in forming ties between Hamas and Iran and Hezbollah, and is involved with the construction and handling of Hamas terrorist infrastructures in the West Bank. In 2014, Arouri, who has been shuttling between Lebanon and Turkey for the past few years, announced Hamas's responsibility for the June 12, 2014 kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers in the West Bank.
In 2015, Arouri left Turkey after unprecedented American and Israeli pressure on the Turkish authorities, according to a Hamas source. "He decided to leave Turkey voluntarily so as not to embarrass Turkey, which was facing huge pressure from Israel and the US Administration," the source said.
In recent months, Haniyeh has become a regular visitor to Turkey, where he is warmly received by Erdogan and other senior Turkish officials.
Last month, Haniyeh said that while Hamas has a "strategic relation" with Iran, it also maintains ties with Turkey and several other countries. "We need Arabs and Muslims to stand with us against the Deal of the Century," Haniyeh explained, referring to US President Donald Trump's recently unveiled plan for Middle East peace. "All Palestinian factions are entitled to preserve their strategy. Hamas believes that Palestine is from the [Jordan] river to the [Mediterranean] sea. Hamas will not recognize Israel."
Erdogan's reported willingness to host the Hamas leadership most likely comes from his longstanding support for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Erdogan's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood go back to the 1970s, when he was one of the trusted political pupils of Necmettin Erbakan, the father of Islamism in Turkey.
Lorenzo Vidino, director of George Washington University's Program on Extremism, pointed out that since the July 2013 overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi as president of Egypt, Erdogan has sought to provide a safe haven for "persecuted" members of the movement.
The Ahval news website noted, in addition, that the dozens of Muslim Brotherhood figures living in exile today in Turkey are some of the movement's most powerful and influential figures. "These Brotherhood leaders and their relatives live a comfortable life, under the protection of the Erdogan administration, the website revealed.
As Hamas is an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, Erdogan's reported readiness to welcome its leaders into Turkey comes as no surprise. It seems that Erdogan is trying to help the Muslim Brotherhood extend its influence across more regions while serving as the spiritual leader of the movement.
If the reports about Erdogan's readiness to invite Hamas leaders to live in Turkey are true, that would also turn Erdogan into the spiritual father of a terrorist group that seeks to destroy Israel and replace it with an Islamic state.
It now remains to be seen whether the international community, including some Arab countries such as Egypt and Saudi Arabia, demand that Turkey distances itself from Hamas.
A Hamas move to Turkey would mean the terrorist group would continue masterminding and carrying out terrorist attacks against Israel -- but this time, under the protective eyes of the Erdogan administration.
Khaled Abu Toameh, an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem, is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at Gatestone Institute.