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June 27, 2016 1:21 pm

Turkish PM Skirts Israeli TV Reporter’s Query About Ankara-Jerusalem Normalization, Pressure on Hamas to Return Bodies of Slain IDF Soldiers

avatar by Ruthie Blum

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Photo: Alchetron.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim. Photo: Alchetron.

Turkish Prime Minister Binali Yildirim skirted a two-part question by an Israeli reporter about the newly announced rapprochement agreement between Jerusalem and Ankara, Israel’s Channel 10 reported.

During a press conference in the Turkish capital on Monday, Moav Vardi, Channel 10’s correspondent in Ankara, asked Yildirim if the reconciliation deal will lead to genuine normalization, and whether Turkey would force Hamas to return to Israel the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul – two IDF soldiers who were killed during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 and whose bodies were abducted by the terrorist organization ruling the Gaza Strip.

According to Channel 10, Yildirim avoided answering directly, saying, “It took years to reach this agreement; it’s a very important step, after which we will decide, based on progress in the relationship, how to act down the line. In order to implement this agreement, there are things the Israeli and Turkish governments have to live up to.”

Yildirim also mentioned what he called the “key stumbling block” to the negotiations, which have been going on for “a very long time” — namely, the “condition of Palestinians in Gaza.”

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“I hope this agreement will be fruitful for [the Turkish] people and the people in Gaza,” Yildirim said, now that Turkey will be allowed to transfer goods to the coastal enclave, after Israel inspects the content of shipments at the Ashdod Port.

Next Friday, he said, “The first shipment of humanitarian goods will leave for Gaza via Ashdod, and for this the blockade will be lifted. We will also work on [projects involving] water, electricity and hospitals in Gaza.”

The Turkish prime minister also said that his country would continue to defend the right of Palestinians to an independent state.

Yildirim’s words jibe with a piece on Turkey-Hamas relations, published on Monday by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, written by the think tank’s Mideast analyst, Yoni Ben Menachem.

According to Ben Menachem,

On issues regarding the Gaza Strip, Hamas and Turkey have been closely collaborating since the Mavi Marmara flotilla affair. The tie between them stems from the common ideology of Hamas and the ruling Justice and Development Party in Turkey as affiliates of the worldwide Muslim Brotherhood movement. In addition, Erdogan and [Hamas Political Bureau chairman Khaled] Mashal, have close, friendly relations.

Throughout the talks with Israel on normalizing relations, Turkey constantly updated Hamas and consulted with it. [Turkish President Recep Tayyip] Erdogan made the demand for lifting the blockade of Gaza a condition for an agreement with Israel.

On January 25, 2016, senior Hamas official Ahmed Yusuf told the Palestinian Maan News Agency that Hamas and senior Turkish officials were maintaining a direct line of communication on the terms reached between Israel and Turkey on the Gaza issue.

However, Ben Menachem wrote,

Erdogan was unable to fulfill his promise to Mashal about securing a full removal of the blockade on Gaza. The Turks explained to the Hamas leaders that they had done their utmost in the talks with Israel. According to Hamas sources, Mashal, whom the Turks kept informed on the negotiations, accepted Erdogan’s explanations and the relations between Turkey and Hamas have not suffered.

It is this connection between Turkey and Hamas that Hadar Goldin’s grieving mother pointed to when expressing dismay that the return to Israel of her son’s remains – and those of fellow fallen soldier Oron Shaul – for burial were not included in the reconciliation agreement.

“Turkey is Hamas’ patron,” Dr. Leah Goldin said in an interview with The Algemeiner on Sunday. “Turkey is also a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Turkey — with the whole Mavi Marmara story — proved to us that it is the country closest to Hamas and most concerned with taking care of Hamas interests. It cannot be that Turkey has no say.”

Goldin was referring to the IDF’s May 2010 interception of the Free Gaza Flotilla, which resulted in the death of 10 Turkish activists at the hands of Israel naval commandos who trying to defend themselves against attack by the activists on one of the ships seeking to break Israel’s naval blockade of Gaza. It was this incident that led to a severing of diplomatic relations between Israel and Turkey under Erdogan.

“I don’t accept the claim that Turkey has no leverage,” Goldin said. “This is not only a humanitarian issue — and an Israeli value never to leave behind soldiers in battle — but it is a crucial message to the new crops of soldiers who will have to fight in the next war.” Goldin expressed disappointment that the return of the fallen soldiers was not used as a condition for reaching a deal with Turkey — especially after their families were “told by Netanyahu on an hour-long conference call recently that everything was being done to return them to Israel for burial, and that nobody had forgotten us.”

Netanyahu opened Sunday morning’s weekly cabinet with a similar statement:

There is much misinformation and disinformation about the possible agreement being crystallized with Turkey. I would therefore like to clarify that we have been making every effort, through both overt and covert means, to return to Israel Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, may their memory be blessed, as well as the two Israelis being held in Gaza [Bedouin Israeli Hisham Al-Sayed and Ethiopian-Israeli Avraham Mengistu, a mentally unstable man who crossed over into Gaza last September]. We are in continual contact with the families. And we will not rest until we return the boys home.

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