The Hamas terrorist organization announced Thursday that Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will visit Gaza July 5-6, but a few hours later, Erdogan flatly denied it.
The announcement by senior Hamas official Abdelsalam Siyyam, secretary-general of the terrorist government, appeared to confirm earlier reports allegedly broadcast over Turkish television and that were carried in Israeli and Palestinian Authority media as well.
"The visit of Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan is to take place on July 5," Siyyam announced. "Two Turkish delegations, one governmental and one press, arrived in Gaza two days ago and met with [Hamas] prime minister [Ismail] Haniyeh and deputy foreign minister Ghazi Hamad to look into details of the visit," he told the Falestin newspaper, AFP reported. "They informed us about the timing of the visit."
However, both the Turkish Hurriyet and Today’s Zaman daily newspapers quickly posted a statement from the prime minister’s office Thursday denying the claim.
Erdogan met on June 18 in his Ankara office with Haniyeh and Hamas politburo chief Khaled Mashaal.
No date has yet been set for Erdogan’s visit to Gaza, the statement said, adding that Erdogan “will be in Turkey during the dates in question.”
Erdogan blamed the holdup on the recent nationwide protests in Turkey ignited by a redevelopment plan for Istanbul’s Gezi Park in the iconic Taksim Square that had not passed muster with residents. The protests touched off a groundswell of opposition that spread throughout the country over the past three weeks.
“These events unfortunately led to this postponement,” Erodgan said Tuesday after a group meeting of his Justice and Development Party (AK Party) faction in Parliament.. “Gaza is ready, but we could not be ready because of these events. We could make a surprise visit at any moment.”
The U.S. and the Palestinian Authority’s leading Fatah faction are both opposed to such a visit before reconciliation talks conclude between Hamas and Fatah – a point that has been “clarified” to the Turkish prime minister repeatedly over the past several months.
Hamas, which ousted Fatah in a bloody coup to seize control over Gaza in 2007, has often agreed to join the rival faction in a PA unity government over the past several years but has always backed away at the last minute, leaving Gaza separate and independently governed. Fatah rules the remaining two PA-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria from the PA capital city of Ramallah.
Washington last month 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 also said during a visit to Turkey in April that Erdogan's planned trip to Gaza in June would be "better delayed," urging Erdogan to wait for the "right circumstances."