Turkey to help Israel take back bodies of two soldiers from Hamas
Turkey is set to help Israel take back from Hamas the dead bodies of two Israeli soldiers killed during the Israeli operation on Gaza in July 2014, diplomatic sources have told the Hürriyet Daily News. The Turkish delegation that met with the Israeli delegation in Rome on June 26 to finalize the normalization deal between the two countries has pledged to try to convince Hamas to give back the bodies of Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayeed, according to senior sources who asked not to be named.
The issue was also raised during a joint visit from Turkish Jewish community representatives and the Conference of Presidents of Jewish Associations in the United States to President Tayyip Erdoğan in Ankara on Feb. 9. Confirming this information, an Israeli source said they knew Hamas would not do what Turkey says “without carrying out its own bargaining,” but Turkey’s gesture was “appreciated” as an indication of the softening atmosphere in parallel with the deal.
Relations between Turkey and Israel had hit rock bottom after Israeli soldiers killed nine Turkish civilians on May 31, 2010 on board the Mavi Marmara ship, which was carrying humanitarian aid to the blockaded Gaza Strip. Following the normalization deal that was announced simultaneously on June 27 in Ankara and Jerusalem by Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yıldırım and his Israeli counterpart Binyamin Netanyahu, the first Turkish cargo ship set sail on July 1 from Mersin, headed to the Ashdod port in Israel carrying humanitarian material to be delivered to the Hamas-governed Palestinian territory of Gaza.
Limiting Hamas activity in Turkey
During the final phases of the talks, the Israeli government also requested that Ankara stop Hamas from carrying out activities in Turkey. It particularly referred to a statement by a Hamas official in Turkey in 2014 as evidence. On Aug. 20, 2014, almost 20 days after Israel’s military operation on Gaza had started, Saleh al-Arouri gave a press conference in Istanbul and claimed responsibility for the killing of three Israeli citizens. Al-Arouri, who is a founding commander of the Izz ad-Din Qassam Brigades, the military wing of Hamas, said three Israeli teens - Natali Fraenkel, Gilad Shaer and Eyal Yifrah - were killed by two Hamas militants in the Fatah-governed Palestinian territory of the West Bank upon their orders. The killing of the three teens had been cited as the reason for the start of the Israeli operation on Gaza, during which the two soldiers were lost.
The Israeli government has long claimed that al-Arouri was still based in Turkey, asking Ankara to extradite him and put a stop to Hamas activities. The Turkish Foreign Ministry, however, said on Aug. 12, 2015 that al-Arouri was “not in Turkey,” without elaborating on whether he had been based in Turkey before. Later, on Dec. 22, 2015, Netanyahu stated in Israel that Turkey had “fulfilled the condition” of sending al-Arouri away.
Diplomatic sources say Turkey will allow the political wing of Hamas to stay in Turkey on the condition that it does not conduct any operational activity within Turkey - including collecting money – that could be considered as supporting terrorist activities.