US officials have expressed concern about Hamas leader Khaled Mashaal’s surprise visit to NATO ally Turkey over the weekend and have voiced their concerns to senior Turkish officials.
Mashaal, the leader of Hamas, labeled a terrorist organization by the US, met with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan on Friday and participated in a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) congress held in Konya on Saturday. Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu held hands with Mashaal when they walked in during a political rally in Konya.
When asked about the Hamas leader’s visit to Turkey during a press conference on Tuesday, US Department of State Press Office Director Jeff Rathke said: “Hamas is a designated foreign terrorist organization. Hamas continues to engage in terrorist activity and demonstrated its intentions, among other times, during this summer’s conflict with Israel. And we continue to raise our concerns about the relationship between Hamas and Turkey with senior Turkish officials, particularly after learning about Khaled Mashaal’s recent visit there.”
He also added that the US has urged the Turkish government to press Hamas to reduce tensions and prevent violence. “We raise this at senior levels with our Turkish counterparts,” Rathke said.
When questioned about whether the US had asked Turkey not to allow Mashaal’s visit, Rathke announced that the US learned about the surprise visit after it had taken place. He added that Turkish officials understand the views of the US.
“We have concerns about Turkey’s relationship with Hamas. We make those [concerns] clear,” he said. Mashaal entered the Konya Metropolitan Municipality’s Sports and Congress Center hand-in-hand with Davutoğlu on Saturday. The Hamas leader was welcomed by AK Party members with chants of “God is great.”
Speaking at the congress, Mashaal said, “A powerful Konya and a powerful Turkey mean a powerful Jerusalem,” adding, “God willing, God is with you and with us on the path to victory. A democratic, developed and stable Turkey is a source of power for all Muslims. Just as your people protected Jerusalem, the al-Aqsa Mosque and Palestine, we will again save Palestine and Jerusalem in the future as well,” he said.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas also warned Turkey about its close relations with Hamas when he visited Turkey back in July, Today’s Zaman has learned. Abbas is expected to visit Turkey mid-January, Davutoğlu told journalists on Sunday.
Davutoğlu also told journalists that Mashaal’s surprise appearance at the AK Party congress in the central province of Konya was part of a visit that had been planned earlier. Speaking to reporters in Konya, Davutoğlu said he had a meeting with Mashaal on Friday evening and had an opportunity to discuss issues on the agenda in detail during the Hamas leader’s visit.