Hamas chief Khaled Meshal visited Turkey Thursday, meeting with Turkey's foreign minister, Abdullah Gul.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Ra'anan Gissin, in an interview with Turkish television, condemned Turkey's decision to host Meshal. "How would you feel if we got together with Abdullah Ocalan?" Gissin asked. Ocalan is the imprisoned leader of a Kurdish group fighting for autonomy in southeast Turkey.
Turkey's foreign ministry called Gissin's statement "unfortunate," adding, "The comparison in this statement is totally baseless and wrong."
Both Ocalan's Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) and Hamas are listed as terrorist organizations by the United States, an ally of both Turkey and Israel.
Turkish opposition leader Deniz Baykal of the Republican People's Party told reporters at a press conference that the Hamas officials' visit would have negative effects on Turkey's image. "It will lead to the questioning of Turkey's determination against violence and terrorism in the world," he said.
Hamas chief Meshal believes that he can gain the world's acceptance of the group without renouncing terrorism or accepting Israel's right to exist. "We want the world, and especially the countries in the West, to understand us, to understand Hamas well, to understand the will of the Palestinian people, the national goals of Hamas and the Palestinian people," he told reporters in flight from Turkey to Syria.
Meshal added that the trip to Turkey was a great victory for Hamas, as Turkey has an image of moderation in the Western world. "We hope after Turkey to go to other countries," he said. "Maybe it is the first step to Europe and the West."
Meanwhile, newly sworn-in Hamas parliamentarian Mahmoud al-Zahar responded to an announcement of planned punitive measures by Defense Minister Sha'ul Mofaz by saying he is confident that the international community will break ranks with Israel and embrace Hamas. "The world will cooperate with Hamas and with the Palestinian government," he said. "The Israeli and American governments will find themselves isolated within the international community."
So far, Russia and Venezuela have invited Hamas to visit, but the US and European Union have stuck to their demand that Hamas at least verbally disavow terrorism and acknowledge Israel's right to exist.