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Turkish FM Davutoğlu meets Hamas chief amid Israel row

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News | 7/20/2010 12:00:00 AM |

Turkey's foreign minister held unannounced talks Monday in Damascus with a senior Hamas leader whose visit to Ankara four years ago drew the ire of Tel Aviv.

Amid ongoing tensions in Turkish-Israeli relations, Turkey’s foreign minister held unannounced talks Monday in Damascus with a senior Hamas leader whose visit to Ankara four years ago drew the ire of Tel Aviv.

Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu and Hamas leader Khaleed Meshaal discussed the ongoing internal divisions between two major Palestinian groups, Hamas and al-Fatah, and also reviewed the efforts to revive peace talks between Palestine and Israel, Anatolia news agency reported early Tuesday.

The meeting took place in Damascus as the Turkish foreign minister was paying a half-day visit to Syria to hold talks with authorities regarding bilateral issues and the fight against terrorism.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan recently attempted to facilitate a process of reconciliation between Hamas and al-Fatah, but the effort received a cold response from Mahmoud Abbas, the head of the Palestinian Authority, in which al-Fatah plays a prominent role. In the talks Monday, Davutoğlu reportedly focused on overcoming differences between the two groups to form a united political Palestinian body.

The welcoming in Ankara of a delegation led by Meshaal in February 2006, following Hamas’ victory in Palestinian elections, angered Israeli officials, who have long been concerned about the Turkish government’s relations with the group. Opposition parties in Turkey have meanwhile accused the government of acting “as the spokesperson of Hamas.”

In response to such criticisms, Erdoğan has said he does not see Hamas as a terrorist organization but as “a resistance group defending [its] territory.”

Hamas is acknowledged as a terrorist organization by both the United States and the European Union, though there is a growing belief that any peace effort in the Middle East should include Hamas as well.

While in Damascus, Davutoğlu also held talks with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi, who is trying to form a government.

“I have observed progress in the efforts to establish the government in Iraq,” the Turkish foreign minister told reporters.

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