Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Gaza next week, a senior official in the ruling Hamas movement told a newspaper on Thursday, although Ankara insisted a date has not yet been set.
“The visit of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is to take place on July 5,” Abdelsalam Siyyam, secretary general of the Hamas government said in an interview with Falestin, a daily considered very close to the Islamist movement.
But the Turkish leader’s press secretary denied the trip had been planned for July 5, saying the date was still undecided.
“The announced date is not correct. The prime minister has other scheduled programs in Turkey around those dates,” the aide said.
“The visit will take place, but its date has not yet been decided.”
The Turkish leader has long pledged to push ahead with plans to visit the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, despite opposition from the United States which says it would be a “distraction” from efforts to revive the peace process.
Washington also fears such a visit could damage the rapprochement between Israel and Turkey which was personally brokered by President Barack Obama in March.
“Two Turkish delegations, one governmental and one press, arrived in Gaza two days ago and met with prime minister (Ismail) Haniya and deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad to look into the details of the visit,” Siyyam told the paper.
“They informed us about the timing of the visit.”
Last week, Haniya and exiled Hamas chief Khaled Meshaal met with Erdogan in Ankara to discuss the planned visit.
The Turkish leader has previously said his visit to Gaza would be aimed at pushing for an end to Israel’s blockade on the tiny coastal territory which has been in place since 2006.
In May 2010, a six-ship flotilla of pro-Palestinian activists, many of them Turkish, tried to reach Gaza by sea in defiance of the blockade.
Israeli commandos tried to stop them by force leaving nine Turkish nationals dead and the Jewish state’s once-close ties with Ankara in tatters.
Repeated attempts to bridge the divide between Washington’s two key regional allies went nowhere until March when US intervention brought about an Israeli apology which paved the way for a reconciliation.
However, bilateral talks over Israeli compensation for the families of the victims — a key element of the reconciliation — ran aground, a source close to the Turkish delegation told AFP on Thursday.
Last month, on a trip to Washington, Erdogan said he would also be visiting the West Bank in a step he linked to peace moves.
“It will not be a visit only to Gaza. I will also go to the West Bank,” Erdogan said.
“I place a lot of significance on this visit in terms of peace in the Middle East. I’m hoping that that visit will contribute to unity in Palestine.”
The planned visit will take place as US Secretary of State John Kerry pushes ahead with a five-month campaign to draw Israel and the Palestinians back to the negotiating table after a hiatus of nearly three years.
It also comes as Erdogan faces the biggest challenge to his decade-plus rule in the form of mass anti-government demonstrations which have prompted a brutal police crackdown.
(Agencies and Maannews.net)