Erdogan to Visit Gaza, U.S. Objects
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Thursday he would probably make a planned trip to Gaza in June and was also expecting to visit Palestinian Authority-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria, despite opposition from the U.S. to his visiting Gaza.
Erdogan gave new details at a news conference with U.S. President Barack Obama of the Gaza trip, which will test Turkey's relations with Israel after a U.S.-brokered rapprochement, AFP reported.
"According to my plan, most probably I would be visiting Gaza in June," said Erdogan, who had promised details of the trip after his talks with Obama.
"But it will not be a visit only to Gaza. I will also go to the West Bank," he said, according to AFP.
The dual stops mean Erdogan would meet with the Hamas rulers of Gaza as well as with Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, likely in Ramallah.
“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 Turkish leader said, according to AFP.
Washington, meanwhile, urged Erdogan to postpone any visit to Gaza, saying it would be a "distraction" from its efforts to revive the Middle East peace process.
"As we've said consistently, we oppose engagement with Hamas, a foreign terrorist organization which remains a destabilizing force in Gaza and the region," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters later.
"We urge all parties who share our interest in the creation of a Palestinian state to take steps that promote the resumption of peace talks between the Palestinians and Israel," she was quoted by AFP as having said.
Secretary of State John Kerry said during a visit to Turkey last month that the trip would be "better delayed," urging Erdogan to wait for the "right circumstances."
Erdogan hit back, saying "we wish he had not said that" and Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc told reporters it was up to Turkey to decide what to do.
Washington fears Erdogan’s visit to Gaza could damage the truce Obama brokered between Washington's two key regional allies.
The breakthrough came after Erdogan accepted an apology from Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu for the deaths of nine Turks during a 2010 raid on a Gaza-bound flotilla as Obama left Israel after a visit in March.
Israeli and Turkish officials have began talking about compensation for the victims of the Marmara incident, and Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister recently indicated that progress had been made in the talks.